A secular saint

28 May

  The behavior of Poland currently denying his involvement in the Holocaust, like Turkey deny the genocide of Armenians is painful, but there were extraordinary Poles who gave their lives trying to save Jews, but they were, unfortunately, a small minority. One was Janusz Korczak, Jew also, director of an orphanage in Warsaw and went to death with their children. 

  The Holocaust is underrated by most of the world’s population, often stays in a massacre organized by gas in some camps. That is the final phase of a long process that began in Germany in 1933 when Hitler takes. democratically and  by majority, the  power.Imagine a city and an organized gang of murderersthat killing all the inhabitants of that city, schools, kindergartens, clinics, offices, orphanages, warehouses, etc., that was exactly what happened with the Holocaust, supported or with  the indifference of the local population in most countries where it happened.


Korczak was born in Warsaw in 1878 or 1879 (sources vary).
After graduation he became a pediatrician . In 1905−1912 Korczak worked at Bersohns and Baumans Children’s Hospital in Warsaw. During the Russo-Japanese War    in 1905–1906 he served as a military doctor. Poland was part of Russia at that time.

In 1911–1912 he became a director of Dom Sierot in Warsaw, the orphanage of his own design  for Jewish children.

In 1939, when  Worls War II  erupted, Korczak volunteered for duty in the Polish Army but was refused due to his age.

  When the  Germans created the Warsaw Guetto  in 1940, his orphanage was forced to move from its building, Dom Sierot at Krochmalna 92 to the Guetto  (first to Chłodna 33 and later to Sienna 16 / Śliska 9). Korczak moved in with them.  

 A detail of usual German  barbaric behavior :

 On the day they were scheduled to depart, November 29, the children lined up in the courtyard as rehearsed, while Korczak made a final inspection of the wagons filled with the coal and potatoes that he had so arduously procured on his daily rounds. The children waved goodbye sadly to the Polish janitor, Piotr Zalewski, who was staying behind to care for the house. His face was swollen almost beyond recognition from the beating he had received the day before when he and the laundress had applied to the Nazi police for permission to go into the ghetto with the orphans. The Germans had thrown the laundress out, but detained Zalewski for questioning. Didn’t he know that Aryans were no longer allowed to work for Jews? When the janitor replied that after twenty years of service he considered the orphanage his home, the Germans thrashed him with whips and rifle butts.

The orphans tried to sing as they marched out of the courtyard and into the street, clutching their few possessions. The green flag of King Matt, with a Jewish star on one side, flew over the little parade as it made its way through the teeming streets the short distance to 33 Chlodna Street. When they reached the place where the wall cut along Chlodna, slicing its “Aryan” half off from the ghetto, they found German and Polish police at the gate demanding identification, as if they were crossing a foreign border.

While they were passing through, a German policeman confiscated their last wagon, which was filled with potatoes

 The Germans subjected all the inhabitants of the ghetto to starve, like they did with the occupied cities like  Karkhov in Russia , even calculated the rate at which they should starve.
As a comparison the Russians the following day to conquer Berlin began to feed its population.

The Warsaw Guetto

 He spent the last two-odd years of his life protecting them and other orphans from starvation and disease.

  Each day found him getting up and slinging a sack over his shoulder. It was as bottomless as the sack of the old man who demanded coins from him after the puppet show in his childhood: “Not enough, young gentleman, not enough! A bit more!” He had no choice but to beg as relentlessly as the old man had begged from him. 

  Korczak was more and more overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness as he passed emaciated boys and girls with bare arms and legs begging in the wintry streets one day and frozen to death in the gutters the next. They were usually children of refugees who had already succumbed to typhus, hunger, or cold, or sick children put out on the street just before death by parents who could not afford to pay for a burial wagon to take them away. 

With “his” children


   Sometimes Korczak knelt beside the dying children, trying to transmit some warmth from his hand to their emaciated bodies, whispering a few words of encouragement, but most of them were already beyond response. In their advanced stage of starvation, they could not get up, but lay curled in a fetal position, as if sleeping with their eyes open.

From the film Korczak, 1990 film by Andrzej Wajda

On 5 or 6 August 1942, German soldiers came to collect the 192 orphans (there is some debate about the actual number: it may have been 196), and about one dozen staff members, to transport them to Treblinka     extermination camp. Korczak had been offered sanctuary on the  “Aryan side” ( part of the city without Jews and not colsed by a wall ) by Zegota ( Polish Council to Aid Jews ), but turned it down repeatedly, saying that he could not abandon his children. On 5 August he again refused offers of sanctuary, insisting that he would go with the children. He stayed with the children all the way until the end.


The day to the departue to the Death, the children were dressed in their best clothes, and each carried a blue knapsack and a favorite book or toy. Joshua Perle, an eyewitness, described the procession of Korczak and the children through the ghetto to the deportation point to the death camps:

Janusz Korczak was marching, his head bent forward, holding the hand of a child, without a hat, a leather belt around his waist, and wearing high boots. A few nurses were followed by two hundred children, dressed in clean and meticulously cared for clothes, as they were being carried to the altar.

— Ghetto eyewitness, Joshua Perle

Towards the death

According to a popular legend, when the group of orphans finally reached the point for deportation, an  SS  officer recognized Korczak as the author of one of his favorite children’s books and offered to help him escape. By another version, the officer was acting officially, as the Nazi authorities had in mind some kind of “special treatment” for Korczak (some prominent Jews with international reputations were sent to Theresiendstat , another camp of extermination but wure the people died at slower pace). Whatever the offer, Korczak once again refused. He boarded the trains with the children and was never heard from again. 

   Some time after, there were rumors that the trains had been diverted and that Korczak and the children had survived. There was, however, no basis to these stories. Most likely, Korczak, along with Wilczyńska and most of the children, was killed in a gas chamber upon their arrival at Treblinka. A differing account of Korczak’s departure is given in Mary Berg’s Warsaw Ghetto diary:

Dr. Janusz Korczak’s children’s home is empty now. A few days ago we all stood at the window and watched the Germans surround the houses. Rows of children, holding each other by their little hands, began to walk out of the doorway. There were tiny tots of two or three years among them, while the oldest ones were perhaps thirteen. Each child carried the little bundle in his hand.

— Mary Berg, The Diary

 

Can you imagine these small children , some of only two or three years walking and holding their hands, going to their death ? Never will be pardon for the Germans for that.

Memorial at Yad Vashem

  

A detailed account of the last day:

 

  Korczak was up early, as usual, on August 6. As he leaned over the windowsill to water the parched soil of “the poor Jewish orphanage plants, ” he noticed that he was again being watched by the German guard posted by the wall that bisected Sienna Street. He wondered if the guard was annoyed or moved by the domestic scene, or if he was thinking that Korczak’s bald head made a splendid target. The soldier had a rifle, so why did he just stand there, legs wide apart, watching calmly? He might not have orders to shoot, but that hadn’t deterred any SS so far from emptying his ammunition into someone on a whim. Korczak began speculating about the young soldier in what was to be the last entry of his diary. “Perhaps he was a village teacher in civilian life, or a notary, a street sweeper in Leipzig, a waiter in Cologne. What would he do if I nodded to him? Waved my hand in a friendly gesture? Perhaps he doesn’t even know that things are-as they are? He may have arrived only yesterday, from far away . . .”
In another part of the compound, Misha Wroblewski and three of the older boys were getting ready to leave for the jobs Korczak had been able to arrange for them at the German railway depot on the other side of the wall. Every morning they were marched out under guard and counted, and marched back again every night. it was hard work, but it gave them a chance to barter what few possessions they had for food.
They left the orphanage quietly without communicating with anyone. It seemed like just another day they had to get through. Promptly at seven Korczak joined Stefa, the teachers, and the children for breakfast at the wooden tables, which had been pushed together once the bedding was removed from the center of the room. Perhaps they had some potato peels or an old crust of bread, perhaps there was some carefully measured ersatz coffee in each little mug. Korczak was just getting up to clear the table when two blasts of a whistle and that dread call, “Alle Juden raus!” (” All Jews out!”), rang through the house.
Part ofthe German strategy was not to announce anything in advance, but to take each area by surprise: the plan that morning was to evacuate most of the children’s institutions in the Small Ghetto. The lower end of Sliska Street had already been blockaded by the SS, squads of Ukrainian militiamen, and the Jewish police.
Korczak rose quickly, as did Stefa, to still the children’s fears. Now, as always, they worked intuitively together, knowing what each had to do. She signaled the teachers to help the children gather their things. He walked into the courtyard to ask one of the Jewish policemen for time to allow the children to pack up, after which they would line up outside in an orderly fashion. He was given fifteen minutes.
Korczak would have had no thought of trying to hide any children now. During the past weeks, he had seen people who had been discovered hiding in cupboards, behind false walls, under beds, flung from their windows or forced at gunpoint down to the street. There was nothing to do but lead the children and teachers straight into the unknown, and, if he was lucky, out of it. Who was to say that, if anyone had a chance of surviving out there in the East, it might not be them?
As he encouraged the children to line up quietly in rows of four, Korczak must have hoped that no matter how terrible the situation in which they found themselves, he would be able to use his charm and powers of persuasion to wheedle some bread and potatoes and perhaps even some medicine for his young charges. He would, above all, be there to keep their spirits up -to be their guide through whatever lay ahead. He had to try to reassure the children as they lined up fearfully, clutching their little flasks ofwater, their favorite books, their diaries and toys. But what could he tell them, he whose credo it was that one should never spring surprises on a child-that “a long and dangerous journey requires preparation.” What could he say without taking away their hope, and his own? Some have speculated that he told them they were going to their summer camp, Little Rose, but it seems probable that Korczak would not have lied to his children. Perhaps he suggested that the place where they were going might have pine and birch trees like the ones in their camp; and, surely, if there were trees, there would be birds and rabbits and squirrels.
But even a man of Korczak’s vivid fantasy could not have imagined what lay in wait for him and the children. No one had yet escaped from Treblinka to reveal the truth: they were not going East, but sixty miles northeast of Warsaw to immediate extermination in gas chambers. Treblinka was not even an overnight stay.
The Germans had taken a roll call: one hundred and ninety-two children and ten adults. Korczak was at the head of this little army, the tattered remnants of the generations of moral soldiers he had raised in his children’s republic. He held five-year-old Romcia in one arm, and perhaps Szymonek Jakubowicz, to whom he had dedicated the story of Planet Ro, by the other.
S tefa followed a little way back with the nine- to twelve-year-olds. There were Giena, with sad, dark eyes like her mother’s; Eva Mandelblatt, whose brother had been in the orphanage before her. Halinka Pinchonson, who chose to go with Korczak rather than stay behind with her mother. There were Jakub, who wrote the poem about Moses; Leon with his polished box; Mietek with his dead brother’s prayer book; and Abus, who had stayed too long on the toilet.
There were Zygmus, Sami, Hanka, and Aronek, who had signed the petition to play in the church garden; Hella, who was always restless; big Hanna, who had asthma; and little Hanna with her pale, tubercular smile; Mendelek, who had the bad dream; and the agitated boy who had not wanted to leave his dying mother. There were Abrasha, who had played Amal, with his violin; Jerzyk, the fakir. Chaimek, the doctor; Adek, the lord mayor. , and the rest of the cast of The Post Office, all following their own Pan Doctor on their way to meet the Messiah King. One of the older boys carried the green flag of King Matt, the blue Star of David set against a field of white on one side. The older children took turns carrying the flag during the course of their two-mile walk, perhaps remembering how King Matt had held his head high that day he was forced to march through the streets of his city to what he thought was to be his execution.
Among the teachers were many who had grown up in the orphanage: Roza Sztokman, Romcia’s mother, with her blond hair parted in the middle and plaited into two thick braids like her daughter’s; Roza’s brother Henryk, who typed the diary, blond like her, a good athlete, popular with the girls. (He could have escaped to Russia before the fall of Warsaw, but he had stayed behind to be with their father, the old tailor.) There were Balbina Grzyb, whose husband Feliks (away at work that day) had been voted king of the orphanage as a boy; Henryk Asterblum, the accountant for thirty years; Dora Solnicka, the treasurer; Sabina Lejzerowicz, the popular sewing teacher who was also a gymnast; Roza Lipiec- Jakubowska, who grew up in the orphanage; and Natalia Poz, who worked in the office for twenty years, limping as a result of polio contracted as a child just before she came under Korczak’s care.
The sidewalks were packed with people from neighboring houses, who were required to stand in front of their homes when an Aktion was taking place. As the children followed Korczak away from the orphanage, one of the teachers started singing a marching song, and everyone joined in: “Though the storm howls around us, let us keep our heads high.” They walked past the Children’s Hospital, a few blocks down on Sliska Street, where Korczak had spent seven years as a young doctor, past Panska, and Twarda, where he had gone at night to see his poor Jewish patients. The streets here were empty, but many people watched from behind closed curtains. When Jozef Balcerak, who had moved into the ghetto the year before to be with his parents, caught sight of the little procession from his window, he gasped, “My God, they’ve got Korczak!” The orphans marched half a mile to the All Saints Church on Grzybowska Square (where they had once asked to play in the garden), joining up with thousands of others, many of them children from institutions that had also been evacuated that morning. They continued on together through the Small Ghetto to the Chlodna Street bridge that crossed over to the Large Ghetto. Witnesses say that the youngest children stumbled on the uneven cobblestones and were shoved up the steps of the bridge; many fell or were pushed down to the other side. Below the bridge some Poles were shouting: “Goodbye, good riddance, Jews!
Korczak led his children down Karmelicka Street, past Nowolipki, home of the Little Review, and past the sausage shop where he used to take his reporters on Thursday nights. Michael Zylberberg and his wife Henrietta, living in the basement of a house on the corner of Nowolipki and Smocza, happened to look out as the orphans passed by. He was relieved to see that the police were not beating and shoving them as they did with other groups.
The little procession walked past Dzielna Street, past the Pawiak prison, and up Zamenhofa toward the northernmost wall of the ghetto. The younger ones were wilting by now in the intense heat; they dragged their feet; they moaned that they wanted to rest, that they were thirsty, that they were hot, that they had to go to the bathroom. But the Jewish police, who were escorting them, kept the group moving forward. Joanna Swadosh, a nurse, saw the orphans as they were approaching their destination. She was helping her mother set up a small infirmary in the evacuated hospital next to the Umschlagplatz. It was no use asking why the Germans, so intent on killing, were bothering to open such a unit. There was no apparent logic in anything they did. She no longer dwelled on such questions, but went numbly about her routine. Not until later would she understand that the infirmary was just a cover to allay any suspicion about resettlement.
She was unpacking a crate when someone glanced through a window and called, “Dr. Korczak is coming!” It could mean only one thing, she thought-they had Korczak. If Korczak had to go, so would they all. The Jewish police were walking on both sides, cordoning them off from the rest of the street. She saw that Korczak was carrying one child, and had another by the hand. He seemed to be talking to them quietly, occasionally turning his head to encourage the children behind. Word that Korczak’s orphanage had been taken spread quickly through the ghetto. When Giena’s brother, Samuel, heard the news, he rushed out of the furniture factory, two friends following in fast pursuit to prevent him from trying to join Giena. He ran first to the Judenrat office to ask Abraham Gepner if it was really true. Gepner, who had always seemed so powerful, sat slumped in his chair as he acknowledged it was.
Can you help me get Giena out of the Umschlagplatz?” Samuel pleaded.
It’s impossible, ” Gepner said, almost inaudibly.
Yesterday they took my daughter’s best friend – remember, I called her my adopted daughter. I couldn’t save her.
As Samuel turned to leave, Gepner roused himself “Even if I had a way of getting Giena out of there, she might refuse to go. She may be better off with Korczak and Stefa and the other children.” Samuel dashed out of the Judenrat office and headed for the Umschlagplatz, his friends still trailing after him. But as he neared the loading area, he found that Mita Street, Niska, and part of Zamenhofa were blocked off. He tried to slip through the crowd of people also desperate to save their loved ones, but his friends held on to him and managed to drag him back to the factory.
All that night Samuel lay on his bed staring into the darkness, unable to think of anything but Giena. What was it like for her on the Umschlagplatz?
What was she thinking?
Was she scared? Was she crying for him? He would take part in the Ghetto Uprising the following year, and survive Maidanek and Auschwitz, but his inability to save his sister would torment him all his life.

In spite of the pandemonium in the ghetto, one could still telephone out to the Aryan side.
Harry Kaliszer, who had arranged the bribe for Korczak’s release from Pawiak two years earlier, phoned Igor Newerly with the terrible news that he had seen everyone being led away. Newerly immediately phoned Maryna Falska, who rushed over to his apartment to join him, his wife, and their nine-year-old son in their vigil. She paced back and forth for quite a while, and then sat in silence. When the telephone finally rang, Newerly leapt for it.

They’re at the Umschlagplatz,” Harry told him. “It looks like this is it.” “Call us if there’s any hope,” Newerly said. “We won’t hear from him again,” Maryna said hoarsely. Her prediction was correct.
At the gate where the ghetto ended, fresh squadrons of SS and Ukrainians were waiting with their whips, guns, and dogs. The children were pushed and shoved through the gate, across the tram tracks on the Aryan side, and through another gate, this one opening into the large dirt field by the railway siding which was the Umschlagplatz. Thousands of people – crying, screaming, praying-were already waiting there in the broiling sun. Families huddled together, their meager belongings tied up in pillowcases or sacks; mothers clung to their children; old people sat in a daze. There was no water, no food, no place to relieve oneself, no protection from the German whips and curses.
Nahum Remba, an official of the Judenrat, had set up a first-aid station in the Umschlagplatz through which he was able to rescue a few of those caught in the dragnets. Word that Korczak and his children were on their way had just reached him when they arrived. He seated them at the far end of the square against a low wall; beyond was the courtyard of the evacuated hospital, now filled with yet more Jews waiting to be loaded onto the trains.
Korczak’s children weren’t the only ones that Remba had to worry about that day: four thousand youngsters had been gathered with their caretakers from other institutions. But Korczak’s children-well, they were Korczak’s. The trains carried from six to ten thousand people daily, but Remba hoped that if he could hold Korczak’s entourage there until noon, he might possibly save them until the following day. in a mad world such as this, each day counted – ach hour.
Remba took Korczak aside and urged him to go with him to the Judenrat to ask them to intervene. But Korczak wouldn’t consider it; if he left the children even for a moment in this terrifying place, they might panic. He couldn’t risk that. And there was always the danger that they might be taken away in his absence.
The loading of the railway cars began then,” Remba wrote in his memoirs. “I stood next to a column of ghetto policemen who were trans- ferring the victims to the train, and watched the proceedings with a pounding heart, hoping that my plan of delay would succeed.” The Germans and Ukrainians kicked and shoved people into the chlorinated cars, and still there was room left. A tall, thin young man with a violin case pleaded in perfect German with an S S officer to let him join his mother, who had been crammed into one of the cars. The officer laughed derisively and said:
It depends on how well you play.” The young man took out the violin and played a Mendelssohn Requiem. The music floated over the crazed plaza. But the German, tired of his game, signaled the violinist to get into the car with his mother and sealed the door behind him.
Then, to Remba’s dismay, Schmerling-the sadistic chief of the ghetto police in charge of the Umschlagplatz – ordered that the orphanages be loaded. Korczak signaled his children to rise.
There are some who say that at that moment a German officer made his way through the crowd and handed Korczak a piece of paper. An influential member of CENTOS had petitioned the Gestapo on his behalf that morning, and the story goes that Korczak was offered permission to return home-but not the children. Korczak is said to have shaken his head and waved the German away.
Remba records in his memoir that Korczak headed the first section of children and Stefa the second. Unlike the usual chaotic mass of people shrieking hysterically as they were prodded along with whips, the orphans walked in rows of four with quiet dignity. “I shall never forget this scene as long as I live, ” Remba wrote.
This was no march to the train cars, but rather a mute protest against this murderous regime . . . a procession the like of which no human eye has ever witnessed.
As Korczak led his children calmly toward the cattle cars, the Jewish police cordoning off a path for them saluted instinctively. Remba burst into tears when the Germans asked who that man was. A wail went up from those still left on the square. Korczak walked, head held high, holding a child by each hand, his eyes staring straight ahead with his characteristic gaze, as if seeing something far away.

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