Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Korczak's Little Republic and the evil whisper of anti-semitism

http://korczak.com/Biography/kap-9.htm

  1. Outbursts of anti-semitism while the home was under construction:

A. Politicians like Roman Dmowski

B. Jews a foreign element and unsympathetic to National Liberation

C. "Your virtues are a death sentence to us."

D. Reasoned words and Korczak's article "Three Currents".
2. But then there was the third current, whose members had always declared: "We are sons of the same clay. Ages of mutual suffering and success link us on the same chain. The same sun shines upon us, the same hail destroys our fields, the same earth hides the bones of our ancestors. There have been more tears than smiles in our history, but that was neither of our faults. Let us light a common fire together . . ." He ended the article with his own personal avowal: "I am in the third current."

3. Russian laborers and a pending pogrom. The orphanage entered in 1912.

4. The Beilis trial and blood libel.

5. Herman Cohen's visit to the orphanage-his impressions.

6. Red geraniums blazing in the sun. Orphans' aid society bought 200 pots of flowers foer the children to distribute to their neighbors.



When news of the progressive Warsaw orphanage experimenting with
self-government spread beyond Poland to other countries, Korczak found that,
along with everything else, he bad to cope with a constant parade of foreign
officials and educators, including a team of Russian architects who spent days
copying the layout of the house. Yet, despite its fame, the little republic was
not immune to the "evil whisper of the street seeping in under the door."
In
1910, while the home was under construction, there had been explosive outbursts
of anti-Semitism. fueled by politicians like Roman Dmowski, the leader of the
right-wing national democratic movement.
"There is not room for two races on the
banks of the Vistula," Dmowski preached, alluding to the fact that Warsaw´s
three hundred thousand Jews made up one-third of the city´s population. The Jews
were a foreign element in Polish society, Dmowski contended, and unsympathetic
to national liberation.
A militant nationalist told Korczak in a despairing tone
over coffee: "Tell me, what is one to do? The Jews are digging our grave." And
another Polish acquaintance lamented: "Your virtues are a death sentence to us."
As if reasoned words might have the power to stem the tide of rising
anti-Semitism, Korczak wrote an article, "Three Currents," for a major Polish
journal. Acknowledging that a complex relationship had always existed between
the Poles and the Jews, and that the antagonisms came from both sides, he called
for faith in the shared history that bound them together.

There were three
distinct currents running through Polish society, he pointed out. The first one,
made up of aristocratic Poles whose names ended in "-ski and -icz," had always
wanted to live separately from those whose names ended in "-berg, -sohn, and
-stein."
The second current, made up of "the heirs of Solomon, David, Isaiah,
the Maccabees, the Halevis and Spinozas-lawgivers, thinkers, poets the oldest
aristocracy in Europe, with the Ten Commandments as their coat of arms," also
preferred to live apart.
But then there was the third current, whose members
had always declared: "We are sons of the same clay. Ages of mutual suffering and
success link us on the same chain. The same sun shines upon us, the same hail
destroys our fields, the same earth hides the bones of our ancestors. There have
been more tears than smiles in our history, but that was neither of our faults.
Let us light a common fire together . . ." He ended the article with his own
personal avowal: "I am in the third current."
Anti-Semitism continued to
grow like a fungus in the shadow of Polish nationalism. Shortly after Korczak
and Stefa moved the children into the orphanage in 1912, there were rumors that
a group of Russian laborers working on the bridges over the Vistula would start
a pogrom.
The lights in the Jewish quarter would be knocked out, and the
Russians would come disguised in old Jewish robes, which, it was said, they were
busily procuring from second-hand dealers. Korczak kept the small gate in the
side wall unlocked for a fast exit should there be any violence.
In 1913,
anti-Semitic hysteria was kindled further by the Beilis trial then in progress
in Kiev. Mendel Beilis, a minor clerk, was accused of killing a Christian in
order to use his blood for a Passover ceremony
. Similar accusations had been
leveled at Jews for centuries in Eastern and Central Europe, but word of this
one spread across Poland like brushfire. Grigori Schmukler remembers that some
children threw stones at him and other orphans as they went to and from school,
shouting: "Beilis! Beilis!" Even when Beilis was acquitted by the Kiev jury, the
children continued their taunts: "Set the dogs on the Jews!"
Korczak tried
to keep good relations with the neighboring children by inviting them over to
play after school with his orphans. The eminent German philosopher Hermann
Cohen, paying a visit on the last stop.of his tour of East European Jewish
communities in 1914,
was amazed at what was being accomplished at the orphanage
in such trying conditions. Unlike other assimilated Western Jews who looked with
condescension on their Eastern brethren as being scarcely out of the Dark Ages,
Cohen wrote glowingly in Martin Buber´s newspaper Der Jude: "I was deeply moved by my visits to exemplary orphan asylums, especially the one directed with
ineffable love and modern understanding by Dr. Goldszmit of Warsaw."

As
rumors of impending war filled the caf├ęs that spring and summer, Korczak tried a
new kind of diplomacy. He persuaded the Orphans Aid Society to buy two hundred
pots of flowers for the children to distribute to their neighbors. The
rest of
Warsaw might be preoccupied with the possibility of world conflict, but up and
down their end of Krochmalna red geraniums would blaze in the sun.

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