Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Korczak child of the drawing room from Betty Jean Lifton's bio

His experience as a child with his father taking him to a nativity play showed his reactions as a child to fright and the unknown and to surprises . As he would write later of this incident, to force no unwanted surprises on a child. His father was a pedagogue. It seems Henryk (Janusz) was terrified by the devil in the play and his father was insensitive and uncomprehending the boy's fears. Death of his canary and the insensitivity around him were an expected part of his childhood and when Henryk erected a cross for the bird's grave, he was reminded by the janitor's son the canary was Jewish and so was he. The other boy was Catholic and a Pole. These little scenes are so cosmic and impregnated when engaged in later recall by Janusz now grown.

Sometimes Henryk was summoned to meet the guests and recite the Romantic
ballad by Adam M ickiewicz that all good Polish children were required to
memorize for such occasions: "The Return of Daddy." He would stand pale and
awkward as he began: "Daddy is not coming back! Daddy is not coming back!"
-becoming as he spoke the child who feared his father would be killed by bandits
on his way home from a business trip. The father was eventually spared by the
bandits, who were moved that a child was waiting for him. But little Henryk was
never spared the "false smiles" of the men with prickly beards who blew cigar
smoke in his face, and the strong perfume of the women who tried to draw him
onto their laps. (Until he was reprimanded for it, he wiped his face thoroughly
after each kiss.) He was embarrassed by the senseless ques- tions and hollow
laughter: Whom did he resemble? Oh, he was such a big boy! Just look how he'd
grown! Didn´t they know that children don´t want to be touched or kissed by
strangers? Even his mother and father seemed like strangers at such moments.
His father had already become unpredictable. He tweaked Henryk´s ears quite
hard despite the most emphatic protests from the boy´s mother and grandmother.
"If the child goes deaf, it´ll be your doing," his mother would say. Once, when
the boy had an exciting piece of news, he ran into his father´s study and tugged
at his sleeve. Jozef exploded at him for causing an inkblot on an important
piece of paper. Yet at other times his father would act like a friend,
especially during the Christmas season, when he would take Henryk and his sister
to a Nativity play. His mother was always nervous when the children were out
with Jozef Sometimes it seemed to the boy that his charming, mercurial father
was as dangerous as the janitor´s son. He exuded a reckless male sense of
freedom that was both exciting and terrifying.
Something in Henryk knew that
there was reason for his mother´s concern. "Mama was right to be reluctant about
entrusting her children to the care of her husband," he would say when looking
back on that time, "but just as rightly my sister and I would welcome such
excursions with whoops of delight and remember fondly even the most strenuous
and disastrous pleasures sought with an amazing intuition by that not
particularly reliable pedagogue-my father."
One year when he went with his
father to a Nativity play in the long, overheated hall of an orphanage, his
father agreed with "a mysterious, strange lady" that his son would see better
ifhe sat with the other children in the front row. Already overwhelmed by the
air of mystery in the packed house, the boy panicked at the thought of being
separated from his father. He also remembered that he was always terrified when
the Devil and Death came prancing out.He called out helplessly as he was being
led away. "Daddy!" His father, not comprehending, replied only. "Go along, silly
boy" On the way to his seat, he kept asking the woman whether Herod and the
Devil would appear, but she was as unaware of his anguish as his father. "Wait
and see, " was all she said. It was not by chance that the future educator would
instruct teachers: "Don´t force surprises on children if they don´t want

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