Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A bad period for all Czarist oppression incarceration

Thousands of Polish elite and intellectuals wre impriosned or sent to Siberia during the Czarist oppression. Korczak spent months in jail with Ludwik Krzywicki,the renowned sociologist ,in
Spokojna prison.Ludwik was a renowned sociologist and was focused and could shut out the irritations of envrionment and by observation Korczak learned discipline when incarcerated by the Nazis.The Universities were closed and the abortive 1905 reforms were rescinded. Released from prison, and back at the orphanage, the Eliasbergs told him of their dream of a modern orphanage and caught him at the right time to make a radical change in his life. He became director of an orphanage ,yes, to feed his reformatory zeal, the real reason being, as is quoted, he felt best when among children. The orphanage was a laboratory for clinical observation where he could detect symptoms of the whole child and enable the scultping of that child's soul. Korczak was a pioneer of moral education "concerned with the grammar of ethics" and the orphanage was his laboratory to conduct the shelter,the utopia as a shelter for the homeless. Krochmalna street had a split personality referred to by Isaac Singer, an uncoverable deep stratum.He was creating a spiritual space apart from the crass world on Kochmalna Street. Note Korczak's eulogy on the death of Waclaw Nalkowski, a man who died the way he wanted to die, that could no longer exhude "sustenance" to Korczak. His visit to the Forest Hill Orphanage in England is most revelatory as described in his biography . Out of that experience he forged himself anew as if reborn as the chidless defender of the rights of the child as he most assuredly was.

Life in the shelter became more important to Korczak as life outside became
more harassed. On July 22, 1909, which happened to be his birthday, Korczak´s
sister´s husband, Jozef Lui, died at the age of thirtynine. (Nothing is known of
Lui -whose odd name adds to the mystery- or of his marriage to Anna, who by then
was a French legal translator.) It was a bad period for everyone. In a new wave
of Czarist repression, thousands of the elite of Polish society-among them
intellectuals, socialists, and members of the revolutionary party-were either
imprisoned or sent to Siberia.
The universities were closed, and most of the
reforms won in the abortive revolution of1905 were abolished.
Society magazine,
which Jadwiga Dawid had started when Voice was closed by the police four years
earlier, was itself forced to stop operating.
Whatever the cause, political
pressure or Dawid's involvement with another woman - or a combination
ofboth-Jadwiga had a nervous breakdown. She would throw herself into a well the
following year, at the age of forty-six.
Korczak was rounded up with many
other writers and incarcerated In the same cell with in Spokojna prison. He was
relieved to find himself. Ludwik Krzywicki, the renowned sociologist, whom he
knew from Flying University days. A radical socialist who had translated Marx
into Polish, Krzywicki was as acquainted with jail cells as he was with
classrooms, where he was known for his dazzling lectures - many of them prepared
behind bars. Going in and out of prison had become an accepted way of life for
him, one that he didn't question, unlike Jan Dawid and Waclaw Nalkowski, who had
long felt the futility of political activity as a means of solving Poland' s
internal problems.
Krzywicki had learned to endure life in cramped
windowless cells where his "longest walk" was seven paces and his only companion
a fly (about whom he wrote long letters to his son). Korczak was amazed at how
the professor was able to shut out the irritations of the environment and to
concentrate on keeping his inner self intact.
He spent each day as if he were in
his own study, spreading his papers and maps over the grimy floor and tracing
the migrations of ancient tribes. During the two months they spent together, it
is believed that Krzywicki encouraged his young friend to pursue his goals.
(Korczak was to draw upon the discipline he learned from Krzywicki when he was
incarcerated, years later, by the Nazis.)

Released from prison through the
intercessions of a highly placed Polish family whose child he had treated,
Korczak once again spent as much time as he could with Stefa and the children at
the shelter. Eliasberg and his wife confided to him their dream of moving the
children from that inadequate building into a large, modern orphanage. Stefa had
agreed to assume general management, they said, and if someone like Korczak was
involved, they were sure that the Orphans Aid Society could attract more patrons
and raise the large amount of money needed.
The Eliasbergs had caught Korczak at
the right moment; discouraged by the political situation and still restless at
the hospital, he was ready to make a radical change in his life.
In 1910,
Warsaw society learned, with some surprise, that Janusz Korczak intended to give
up a successful medical practice and literary career to become the director of
an orphanage for Jewish children. Few people understood that medicine alone was
no longer enough for this visionary pediatrician - that it did not, as Erik
Erikson said of Gandhi´s law practice, "feed his reformatory zeal." The
orphanage would give him a chance to put some of his educational ideas into
practice, and though it might appear he was making a sacrifice in taking it
over, it did not seem so to him. "The reason I became an educator was that i
always felt best when I was among children," he told a young interviewer many
years later. But the decision had not been easy. "The road I have chosen toward
my goal is neither the shortest nor the most convenient," he was to write."But
it is the best for me-because it is my own. I found it not without effort or
pain, and only when I had come to understand that all the books I read, and all
the experiences and opinions of others, were misleading."

Part of the
difficulty in making his decision lay in assuring himself that he was not
betraying medicine by leaving the hospital for the orphanage. (It was a conflict
he never fully resolved.) He wanted to believe that rather than renouncing
medicine for pedagogy, he could combine the two disciplines. Using the orphanage
as a laboratory for clinical observation, he wanted to work out an educational
diagnostic system based on tangible symptoms. Just as a doctor diagnosed disease
by the complaints of the patient, so the teacher had to be aware of the moods of
his pupil:
"What a fever, a cough, or nausea is for the physician, so a smile, a
tear, or a blush should be for the educator." Medicine was concerned only with
curing the sick child, but pedagogy could nurture the whole child. As an
educator, he could be the "sculptor of the child's soul."
His little
republic would not be as ambitious as the School of Life he had once envisioned
on the shores of the Vistula-a utopian center with shelters for the homeless, a
hospital to provide knowledge of the suffering of the body "without which there
is no education," a bank for practical instruction on handling money, and a
pawnshop to teach "the transience of unessential things." But it would still be
a just community whose young citizens would run their own parliament, court of
peers, and newspaper. In the process of working together, they would learn
consideration and fair play, and develop a sense of responsibility toward
others, which they would carry with them into the adult world. In helping his
orphans to respect others, a first step toward gaining self-respect, Korczak was
a pioneer in what we now call "moral education." He was concerned not with
teaching children their ABC's - they would go to public school for that-but with
the grammar of ethics.
The underlying philosophy of the children´s republic
was: children are not the people of tomorrow, but people today. They are
entitled to be taken seriously. They have a right to be treated by adults with
tenderness and respect, as equals, not as masters and slaves. They should be
allowed to grow into whoever they were meant to be: the "unknown person" inside
each of them is the hope for the future.
Had Korczak been given a choice,
the little republic would have comprised an integrated group of Jewish and
Catholic children, but that was not possible. Each religious denomination was
responsible for its own, and the Orphans Aid Society was a Jewish philanthropy.
Still, Korczak hoped to bridge the religious gap by being active in the Polish
Teachers Union and presenting his work as a possible model for all boarding
homes, Polish and Jewish alike.
A plot of land was purchased in a poor,
mixed Catholic and Jewish working-class neighborhood at 92 Krochmalna Street.
Like so many Warsaw streets that reflected the haphazard way the Jews and Poles
had accommodated to each other over the centuries, Krochmalna had a split
personality. (Isaac Bashevis Singer, who grew up at No. 10, called Krochmalna "a
deep stratum of an archaeological dig which I could never uncover.")
sprawling tenement houses at the notorious lower end indiscriminately harbored
thieves, racketeers, and prostitutes along with poor Hasidic rabbis (such as
Singer´s father), pious housewives, and more than its share of Warsaw´s three
hundred thousand impoverished Jewish porters, shoemakers, and artisans.
upper end ofKrochmalna, by contrast, was less populated. There was even a small
orchard on the orphanage´s piece of land, which was bordered by small factories,
shops, and wooden houses, and in the midst of them a simple Catholic church.
The planning of the orphanage was a "momentous experience" for Korczak, who
met a few evenings a week with the two architects at the Eliasberg home. For the
first time he understood "the prayer of work and the beauty of real activity,"
He was not merely designing a building with walls and windows; he was creating a
spiritual space
. He wanted to get as far away as possible from "the cages of
city apartments" and the unhygienic boarding houses that, "combined the defects
of the convent and the barracks." His goal was a spacious, light, and airy
structure that satisfied the individual need of every child. He marveled that "a
square on the blueprint today becomes a hall, a room, a passageway tomorrow."
But he learned to be cautious in his enthusiasm: "Every snap decision was a
directive to the artisan, who gave it permanent form." Every idea had to be
weighed in terms of money, feasibility, and utility. He decided that a teacher
is not entirely proficient unless he or she understands building materials: "A
small shelf a metal plate, a nail in the right place, each may solve an acute
The eldest of the Eliasbergs´ four daughters, Helena, remembered
how she and her sisters looked forward to the nights the funny doctor came to
work with the architects: "We had never seen a grownup like him. He kissed our
hands when he arrived as if we were ladies, and came over to us from time to
time to laugh and joke. He even let us draw on his bald head with the colored
pencils he was using on the blueprints."
While waiting for the orphanage to
be built, Korczak spent about half a year in Paris, training with pediatric
specialists and looking at orphanages and detention centers, much as he had done
in Berlin three years earlier. Paris had a long history of sheltering ‚migr‚
Polish writers and artists, and one can imagine that Korczak visited with some
of them.
He would tell friends later of his walks along the Seine and visits
to the galleries and museums. He came away from his experience realizing that he
felt temperamentally closer to the French than to the Germans. Berlin had taught
him "to simplify and be inventive in small matters, to concentrate on what he
knew step by step, and, systematically, to go forward from that," but Paris
taught him "to think of whatever we do not know, but should like to know, must
and will know"
Berlin was a workday filled with small worries and efforts, but
Paris was the festive tomorrow with brilliant premonition, powerful hope, and
unexpected triumph. In Paris he pored over the "wondrous" books of the French
clinicians and, flushed with excitement, dreamed of writing the definitive book
on the child.
The death of Stefa Wilczynska´s father in January 1911
probably brought Korczak back to Warsaw. It was an inauspicious beginning for
the new year. Then, in February, Waclaw Nalkowski, Korczak"s mentor from the
Flying University, collapsed on the street at the age of fifty-five and died a
few days later in the hospital. The loss of Nalkowski sent shock waves through
Warsaw´s intellectual community' or what was left of it. Dawid was in Cracow, a
lonely man after Jadwiga' s suicide, writing on the psychology of religious
experience. And now Nalkowski, with his uncompromising principles that made him
foes as well as friends, could no longer give Korczak sustenance.
In his eulogy
at the funeral, Korczak sought to console the large crowd of Polish patriots.
A happy man died-a man who lived the way he wanted, and died the way he
wanted, in a hospitalbed. He was not killed by those who today, like cowards,
sing his praise. He was not killed by those who lived and got fat eating the
crumbs of his thought. He was not killed by those who could not see his
greatness. He did not fight any of them. He merely dismissed them with a toss of
his head. It was Death who felled Nalkowski. Let us rejoice that he lived on
Polish soil.

Helping Nalkowski´s widow, herself a geologist, organize his
papers and seeing to last-minute details of the orphanage plans did not lift
Korczak´s spirits. Right after the cornerstone of the building was laid on June
14, 1911, he left for England to visit orphanages there-but also, one suspects,
to shake his depression. He was to have an experience there that appears to have
given him a clearer sense of the direction his personal life was to take. It
began with a refreshing ride from London to the suburb of Forest Hill to visit
an orphanage. He was struck by the large windows and wide benches of the
trolley, the smoothness of the ride. He was equally impressed at finding Forest
Hill an affluent suburb with rolling green lawns as far as the eye could see. He
felt like a country bumpkin as he admired the clippers on long poles which the
gardeners were using to cut hedges, and paused for a while to see how a lawn
mower worked.
But the biggest surprise was the orphanage, "two little
one-story houses sitting together like twins, thirty boys in one, thirty girls
in the other." Why would an affluent area like Forest Hill have orphans? he
wondered. What do the people die of in a place like this? The director greeted
him politely and showed him around "with no trace of German arrogance or French
formality." He saw the carpentry shop where the boys trained, and the laundry,
sewing room, and embroidery workshop for the girls. Every child had his or her
own garden plot, and kept rabbits, doves, or guinea pigs. There was even a
museum next to the school that held, among other treasures, one small mummy.
On leaving, he signed the visitor´s book-Janusz Korczak, Warsaw. He didn´t
need language to know what everyone had been thinking as he was shown around:
´Warsaw? A strange guest from far away. Why is he looking at everything with
such interest? The school? But there are children, so there must be a school.
The orphanage? But there are orphans, so they must have someplace to stay.
Swimming pool? Playground? But all of this is necessary.´
He was conscious
of his threadbare clothes and worn shoes and felt like a beggar who had wandered
in by chance. Walking back to the trolley stop, he was again overwhelmed by the
luxuriant green lawns, the manicured parks, and the large community swimming
pool. Suddenly perceiving his life as "disordered, lonely, and cold," he saw
himself as a shabby stranger, alienated and alone. And it came to him with
sudden clarity that the son of a madman, "a slave who is a Polish Jew under
Russian occupation," had no right to bring a child into the world.
realization "cut through him like a knife," he would write, and immediately he
felt as if he had "committed suicide." The child he might have fathered died
with him at that moment, but there emerged a "revitalized" man who took for a
son "the idea of serving the child and his rights." He who was ambivalent about
so rnany things had now settled once and for all on remaining childless. He was
giving up the responsibilities of marriage and family at which his father had
failed-and for which, in truth, he, Janusz Korczak, had never shown any
inclination. Though he could not remain a child´ he would inhabit the world of
childhood, but as the "responsible pedagogue">
his father was not. He was
thirty-three: almost the same age his father had been when he was born.
of a mad soul we forge a sane deed," he wrote in later years. The deed was "a
vow to uphold the child and defend his rights."
No religious order had asked him
for such a vow-but he was to uphold it as conscientiously as any priest.

No comments:

Post a Comment