- He visited a village school and concluded ' all children are the same'.
- The illnesses that lay dormant in the huge empire were exacerbated by hearing of the Japanese victories and groans of ' revolution' were heard and stimulated the staff and patients on the train. The rebellious soldiers asked Lt Goldszmit to represent them before the military delegation arriving to punish them.
- The men pleaded, he agreed, and on the speaker's crate he instead spoke of the suffering of the children,and no war had the right to deprive the children of their happiness,and the delegation was amazed.
It is the neglected and abused children of this poor district to whom Janek
is drawn. He finds them in the shadows of buildings, "their pale skin stretched
like thin parchment over their crooked bones." Under the bridges he gives them
candy and medicine, and, he hopes, a belief in human kindness. He goes with them
into their squalid dwellings to tell stories and give lessons in reading. The
order intrinsic in grammar may help order their thoughts.
On a Christmas
Eve, dressed like St. Nicholas, Janek goes from room to room in his tenement
house dispensing gifts to the children: a little ball, an apple, candies. He
hangs a cross on the neck of a small red-haired boy known only as Carrot Top,
whom he finds sitting all alone in the dark. When the child asks him if he is
really a saint, he responds "Yes," struck that it is a child who should ask him
At that moment Janek is aware that he has changed, that "new
invisible powers" are gathering inside him, powers that from then on will
"illuminate" his way. He is transformed from a self-absorbed writer gathering
material for a book into a man of spiritual faith who is responsible for his
fellow human beings.
All the themes of the author´s life are in this novel:
his constricted childhood, his fear of suicide and madness, his avoidance of
sex, his determination to be a social reformer, his dedication to children. As
the book ends, Janek has lost most of his illusions, but not his rage at
discovering that two orphaned girls have been sexually abused by their uncle.
When the night watchman in the slum tells him to go home, he shouts, as he once
had at his parents, "Get out of here! Or I´ll bite! I´ll b-i-i-t-e!" -his
syllables blurring into incomprehensibility.
While Child of the Drawing Room
was being serialized in Voice magazine under the byline of Janusz Korczak,
Henryk Goldszmit began a residency at the Jewish Children´s Hospital. But no
sooner had he received his medical diploma in March 1905, than he was
conscripted as a doctor into the Czar´ s Imperial Army to serve in the
Russo-Japanese War. Torn abruptly out ofhis life "like a slave puppet," the new
lieutenant found himself stationed on a hospital train on the Trans-Siberian
Railroad, shuttling back and forth between Harbin and Mukden. Japan, emerging as
a modern nation after centuries of Isolation, was proving victorious in both
land and sea battles over the demoralized Russian forces riddled with
corruption, badly led, and inefficiently supplied.
The young doctor quickly
learned that "war helps you see the illness of the whole body." He viewed the
patients lined up that first rainy day at the station as "prisoners" waiting for
treatment of enteritis, gastritis, venereal disease, or chronic illnesses. Their
diseases, like the international conflict over markets in Manchuria and Korea,
had "unseen roots in the past" for which there was no quick cure.
seriously ill were taken aboard. "The train is full of mad people," he wrote to
his Voice readers. "One of them doesn´t even know his name, how old he is, or
where he is going. Another, equally oblivious to what is going on, broods about
why his wife took his pipe. A third, called the Idiot, sings dirty songs."
They were not soldiers anymore, but "sick people" from whom he was learning
about the malignancies festering in Russian society. He moved among his
patients-barely literate Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish peasants, fierce
Cossacks, and poor Jews - dispensing medicine for both body and soul.
Discovering that they responded well to stories, he told them Russian tales. He
was not unaware of the irony that he, a Polish- Jewish doctor, was comforting
them in the language of his oppressor. the perfect Russian that had been drilled
into him at his Czarist gymnasium.
Every spare moment the young lieutenant
spent exploring the devastated Chinese towns and villages. "It was not that I
came to China, China came to me," he wrote in another article. "Chinese famine,
Chinese orphan misery, Chinese mass mortality. War is an abomination. Especially
because no one reports how many children are hungry, ill-treated, and left
After meeting four-year-old iuo-ya, who "was
extraordinarily patient in teaching Chinese to an inept pupil," he decided that
not only should there be institutes of Oriental languages, but everyone should
have to spend a year in a village in the Orient studying under a four-year-old.
Iuo-ya made him realize that young children who have not yet become "too
conscious of grammar and too influenced by nov'els, textbooks, and school," can
convey the spirit of a language.
Visiting a village school, he was shocked
to see a teacher, reeking of vodka and opium, beating his pupils on their heels
with a thick yardstick. On one side was written in black ink: "He who refuses to
learn is deserving of punishment", and on the other: "He who studies will be
wise." Lieutenant Goldszmit managed to buy the yardstick, though he knew that
after a few days the teacher would make a new one. When the war was over, he
would show his orphans how to play ball (palant) with the stick. He would tell
them that, though Chinese children look different and use a different alphabet,
all children are the same.
As the hospital train steamed back and forth in
that turbulent year 1905, the illnesses that had "lain dormant" in the huge
empire of the Czar were exacerbated by news of Japanese victories. Workers´
strikes and student demonstrations continued to erupt in industrial centers. The
very word "revolution" was a stimulant to the staff and patients on the train,
who voted to join the railway workers´ strike. When a military delegation
arrived to punish the rebellious soldiers, they asked Lieutenant Goldszmit to
represent them. He was reluctant to become involved-it was neither his country
nor his war but the men pleaded so persuasively that he agreed. However, as he
stood on the speaker´s crate, he did not talk ofthe strike or ofthe revolution
but rather ofthe suffering ofchildren. "Before you go to war for any purpose,"
he told the amazed delegation, "you should stop to think of the innocent
children who will be injured, killed, or orphaned." He was beginning to
articulate what would become his philosophy for life: no cause, no war, was
worth depriving children of their natural right to happiness. Children should
come before politics of any kind.
TheK I N G of C H I L D R E N
The L I F E and D E A T HofJANUSZ KORCZAK
by: Betty Jean Lifton St. Martin´s Griffin -New York - ISBN: 0-312-15560-3
HTML-Code by: Korczak Communication CenterMichael Parciak -Germany, Munich