Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Korczak:The Little Republic Established


The image of orphans as exclusively from poverty is a misconception very definitely brought to light in the case of orphan and violin prodigy Grigori Schmukler. They were free of troublesome personnel and could start breathing "easier" .Grigori played folk songs in the glassed cubicle between the dorms. Korczak after the lights went out in the cubicle in semidarkness kept writing. The picture created of his enjoyment of the muffled voices is so mentally picturesque and amenable to the reader's imagination. He dared the children to dream even of their unrealistic goals in a book called Glory. Note The Unlucky Week and why an imaginative boy cannot do anything right at school or home because adults (teachers and parents) cannot understand his feelings. This inability to comprehend the child, does it derive from the laziness of the adult world or is it done on purpose by the adult world, or a mixture of both? The child as hero speaking colloquially and not stiltedly, what a refreshing picture of the child! Walking among the beds listening to the children at their most vulnerable. Had he the right? The scientist had to pry and the educator in him questioned the morality. The many kinds of sobs of children and the centuries weeping a truth expressed poetically as inscrutable but simply possessed by an understanding soul. Note the story of the eight year old boy with a toothache. It seems that those stories are infinitely repetitious with some details changed.

The strangeness of the aura of light was viewed by Korczak and would be incomprehensible to the outside world unless one would be in the midst of the orphanage dorm in the still of night and the the young waifs were revealed in their true auras. Was it Janusz' imagination as to what he wanted to imagine in wanting his children to soar to the heights? Ironically Moishe's fresh flow of tears was produced by Janusz' intended consolings often the effect of such consolings. It was a more complex task to console these inconsolable orphans as no right words or acts could be found much 0f the time.

Even children have bouts of nostalgia and leave the orphanage to seek their old environment. They were dealt leniently by the children's court. He launched the orphanage newspaper, 'the alphabet of life,' and what experiences were unfolding.

Was the orphan's home too Polish and assimilationist ,although observant of the Shabbos customs? The answer is that the customs were kept,yes kept .

Korczak made the Sabbath fun for the children. After their baths, he led them in a long line "snaking up and down the stairs. They had a festive dinner after the candles were lit and played lotto and won little candies. He would then go to the boys' or girls' dorm depending on whose turn it was to tell a story.He was an erudite story steller but favored old fairy tales, Puss N'Boots in particular.The cats pranks were cunning and ingenuity to win his poor master a princess. The belief in magic forces was their surrogate protection where the forces of the real world were hostile and invasive.

Korczak knew that children who feel worthless in a society that doesn´t value them, who feel angry and powerless because their parents, due to death or poverty, can no longer protect them...

Fairy tales were close to life in overcoming of obstacles by perseverance and force of will.

The boys clamored for a fairy tale and pulled him to the ground when a flock of sheep came from nearby and the boys clamored after the flock and the flock taught Korczak humility.

It was almost a year before Korczak and Stefa felt they had established a
firm base for the little republic. ("For want of a foundation, the roof fell
in," became one of his favorite expressions.) They were exhausted but triumphant
at finding themselves free of the troublesome personnel. The child could now
become the "patron, the worker, and the head of the home."
Not all of the
orphans were from poor families. Grigori Schmukler, a violin prodigy, was
admitted at the age of twelve after the death of his father, a doctor. Korczak,
who loved music, arranged for Grigori to give small fund-raising concerts in the
salons of some of the orphanage´s patrons. And at night, before the children
went to sleep, he sometimes invited Grigori into the glassed-in cubicle between
the two dormitories to play Gluck and Polish folksongs for everyone. After the
lights were out, Korczak would sit in the semidarkness of the cubicle writing,
like a pilot in a cockpit responsible for the well-being of his crew. He enjoyed
the murmur ofmuffled voices that wafted in, for he understood "the deep, warm,
spiritual yearnings of children for softly whispered confidences, melancholic
reminiscences, and heartfelt advice."

And he was curious. "What were you
talking about in the dormitory last night?" he might ask the next day.The
children were unselfconscious in their replies:"I was telling him what it was
like when my dad was alive.""I asked him why Poles don´t like Jews.""I told him
if he tried harder, you wouldn´t be angry with him.""i said when i grow up, I
want to take a trip to the Eskimos and teach them to read and build houses like
Korczak responded warmly as the orphans spoke of their innermost
feelings. No one knew more than he how paradoxical life was: he wanted them to
have brave dreams, but he also wanted them to be realistic about the chances of
those dreams coming true. "Dare to dream" he wrote in a book called Glory, about
three children with high but unrealistic goals.
"Something will always come of
it." In The Unlucky Week, an imaginative boy, very much like Henryk Goldszmit,
can´t do anything right in school or at home because his teacher and parents are
incapable of understanding his feelings. The stories caught the fancy of the
public. Korczak was the first in Polish literature to create a child as hero,
one who spoke colloquially rather than in the stilted language that fictional
children, always peripheral to the plot, had been burdened with in the past
While Korczak was recotding his orphans´ patois, he was aware that they
managed to repress during the day. Walking among the beds listening to the
"symphony of children´s breathing," observing the grace or torment of the
dreamers' positions-even as he fretted over whether a cough was bronchial or
just caused by nerves-he took notes for a "major book" on sleeping children and
the night.
Yet the thought crossed his mind: Did he have the right to observe
these children when they were most vulnerable? "Why pry? ." he asked himself.
"Let Nature keep her secrets."
But the scientist had to pry, even as the
educator brooded about the morality involved.
Sometimes he would sit
tormented in his cubicle, knowing there was nothing he could do to reassure a
child who was mourning a dead parent or lonely for his brothers and sisters.
Tears were inevitable, but he could never get used to the choked, hopeless,
tragic sobs, which must have reminded him of his own at that age when he grieved
over his sick father. He knew that there are as many kinds of sobs as there are
children: from the "quiet and private, to the capricious and insincere, to the
uncontrolled and shamelessly naked." "It is not the child, but the centuries
he wrote in his notebook.
An eight-year-old boy woke with a
toothache. Grabbing Korczak´s hand, he spilled out his anguish: ". . . then my
mother died. Then I was sent to my grandmother, but she also died. Then i was
taken to my aunt´s but she wasn´t home. It was cold. My uncle took me in. Very
poor. I was hungry. His children were sick. He put me in the storage room so I
wouldn´t catch anything. My teeth always hurt at night. Then a woman took me for
a short time, but she walked me to a square and left me. It was dark. I was
afraid. Boys started to push me. Then a policeman took me to the station.
Everyone was Poles. They sent me to my aunt. She shouted at me, and made me
swear not to tell you everything that´ s happened to me. Can I stay here? I can?
Aren't you cross with me for throwing the ball on the grass? i didn't know it
was forbidden."
"He fell asleep," Korczak noted. "It was strange, but for a
brief moment I definitely saw an aura of light around his tired eight-year-old
head. I had seen such a phenomenon only once before." And he added:"Even as I
write this, i know that no one will understand. It is impossible unless one has
been in a large orphanage dormitory in the still of night."
The worst
ruffians, who bad tried his patience all day, might break down at night. When he
heard Moishe sob, he rushed to his bed. "Don´t cry. You´ll wake the others."
Then, kneeling beside him, he whispered:"You know I love you. But I can't let
you get away with everything. The wind didn't break the windowpane. You did. You
tried to ruin everyone´s games, didn´t eat your supper, and started a fight in
the dorm. I´m not angry . . . "It didn´t surprise Korczak that his words only
produced a fresh flow of tears: "Sometimes consolation has the opposite
effect-it can aggravate rather than soothe the child´s feelings." But although
Moishe´s sobbing was of an even gyeater intensity than before, it was briefer.
"Maybe you're hungry. Shall I get you a roll?" The boy refused. "Sleep now,
sleep, son," Korczak whispered. Then he touched Moishe lightly. "Sleep."
Korczak felt humble at this moment. If only he could shield his children
from danger, "keep them in storage" until they became strong enough for
independent flight: " An easy enough job for a hawk or hen to warm chicks with
her own body. For me, a man and teacher of children not my own, a more complex
task. I long to see my little community soar, dream of them flying high.
Yearning for their perfection is my sad, secret prayer. But when I am realistic,
I know that as soon as they are able they will take off-prowl, stray´ or
plunder-in search of nourishment and pleasure."
Some of the children did
stray off the property for short excursions: several girls went back to the old
shelter on Franciszkanska Street just to see it again, and three brothers walked
out of town to visit their old house and the forest where they had played. They
had to appear before the children´s court (which operated irregularly those two
years before World War I) for breaking the rule about not leaving the grounds
without permission and being late to supper. The judges were lenient, and
Korczak noted that "even children have nostalgia, a longing for that which once
was and will not return."
Predicting that, in the future, teachers colleges
would offer courses in educational journalism, Korczak launched the orphanage
newspaper, which he called the "alphabet oflife" because it linked one week to
another and bound the children together. "With a paper, we´ll be able to know
everything that´s happening," he said. "It doesn´t matter that we begin with a
small handwritten one. Someday we´ll type it, maybe even print it. ´,
children waited eagerly for Saturday mornings when it was Korczak´s custom to
read his special column in the paper aloud. (Generations of children would
recall the vividness of his style and the warmth of his voice.) "Do you
remember," he wrote in one column, "how you didn´t have any close friend when
you arrived here, and you felt sad and lonely? Do you remember who pushed or hit
you and told you to give him something and you had to obey? . . . Now there are
new children who feel the same way you did, and don´t know their way around. We
hope you will take care of your new comrades."
And in another: "We waited for it
to happen. And it is happening. Children are bringing gifts to their families
from our horne. We wondered what sort of presents they would be: maybe needles,
pencils, a bar ofsoap? But, no, they are very different! One girl told her
brother a fairy tale she heard here, a boy sang a song he had just learned,
another demonstrated how he could wash dishes, and a few reported what they had
read in our newspaper."
The children delivered their "gifts" every Saturday
afternoon after lunch when they were permitted to visit whatever family members
they had left. Korczak felt strongly that they should not lose contact with
their relatives. "Children without a family feel handicapped," he said. "Even a
bad family is better than none." However, as a health precaution, children were
not allowed to stay overnight. When they returned at seven in the evening, they
were checked for lice.
There were rumblings in the Warsaw Jewish community
that the Orphans Home was "too Polish." Korczak was accused of running an
"assimilationist f actory" even though the orphanage kept kosher and observed
the Sabbath and every Jewish holiday. It even invited many of its supporters to
its annual Passover seders. Grigori Schmukler remembers the rabbi who conducted
the first seder, and how disappointed he and the other children were when they
dashed out the door that had been opened for Elijah and didn´t find anyone. But
they did find the matzoh which had been hidden in a locker in the dining hall
and were given candy as a prize. ______
The children looked forward to Sabbath
dinner each Friday night, not only because of the importance it had had in their
own homes, but because Korczak made it so much fun. After their baths, after he
had led them in a long line snaking up and down the stairs through the house,
after the Sabbath candles were lit and they had a festive dinner, after they
played lotto and won little candies, after they had put on their pajamas and
were in bed, Korczak would come up to either the boys´ or the girls´ dormitory,
depending on whose turn it was, to tell a story.
He could easily have made
up a new one each time, but he favored the old fairy tales, especially ."Puss in
Boots." He never tired ofrecounting the pranks of that seemingly worthless cat
who managed by cunning and ingenuity to win his poor master a princess and a
kingdom. Korczak knew that children who feel worthless in a society that doesn´t
value them, who feel angry and powerless because their parents, due to death or
poverty, can no longer protect them, need to believe that there are magic forces
that can help them overcome their difficulties.
"I always thought in terms
of obstacles," he wrote. "if I´m traveling somewhere by ship, then there´s a
storm. IfI´m in charge of some project, I have trouble at first, and only in the
end do I succeed. Because it´s boring if things go well from the start . . ."
Fairy tales, with their obstacles that the hero or heroine must overcome through
perseverance and strength of will, appealed to him because they were so close to
"is it true?" he once heard a child ask while he was telling a story
that involved a wizard, a dragon, fairies, and a princess under a spell. Another
child answered in a superior voice: "Didn´t you hear him say it was a fairy
tale?" Faced with the question of how children perceive reality, Korczak decided:
"The story lacks reality for the child only because we have told him that fairy
tales are not true."
Korczak was drawn to the implicit moral of these
tales-that simple, good people are ultimately rewarded for their virtuous nature
while the wicked are punished. He reveled in his role of storyteller, describing
Puss in his elegant breeches and high boots, the feather tucked jauntily in his
cap, the tension when the King´s chariot appears with the Princess who will
eventually marry Puss´s poor master. And no matter where he was in the plot, he
wasn´t offended when the youngest dropped off to sleep, because, as he liked to
say, he had learned a "lesson in humility" from a flock of sheep at summer camp.

It happened during an outing after he gave in to the bovs´ clamor for a fairy
tale. They had pulled him to the ground, fought over who would sit next to him,
and hung breath- lessly on his every word. Just as he was getting to the most
exciting part, a flock of sheep ambled by, bleating and kicking up dust, and
Bromberg (who was always losing things, like his buttons) jumped up, shouting:
""Look, sheep!" All the boys immediately leapt up and ran toward the flock,
forgetting the storyteller. At first, sitting there alone, Korczak had been
upset, but later he realized that he had the sheep to thank for making him "less
arrogant, even modest."

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