Sunday, July 8, 2012

70 years ago - Janusz Korczak´s Application and his gallows humour

Using rather ironic style, Korczak wrote a letter of application to the Judenrat, requesting the directorship of the public shelter!

    Above is the letter - an application - kind of testimony that Korczak wrote to the Judenrat, requesting the directorship of the public shelter that housed a thousand children at Dzielna Street nr 39 (Photo). He had joked with Czerniakow -  chief of Warszawa Ghetto Judenrat that he was spreading rumors about himself being a thief so that he would qualify for the job, which was now held by scoundrels who had turned the shelter into a slaughterhouse and morgue. Describing himself in the application as an unbalanced, excitable scatterbrain who only by laboriously developed self-control was able to engage in teamwork, he listed his qualifications:

    I am 64. As for my health, it passed the test in prison last year. Despite exacting conditions there, not once did I report sick, not once did I go to the doctor, not once did I absent myself from exercise in the yard, dreaded even by my younger colleagues. I eat like a horse, sleep soundly; recently, after drinking ten shots of vodka, I returned home at a brisk pace from Rymarska Street to Sienna-late at night. I get up twice during the night to empty ten large bedpans. I smoke, do not overindulge in liquor; for everyday purposes my mental faculties-passable. Experience has endowed me with a considerable ability to coexist and collaborate even with criminal types and born imbeciles. Ambitious, obstinate fools cross me off their visiting list-though I do not return the compliment. I anticipate that the criminal characters among the staff of the Dzielna Street orphanage will voluntarily resign from the hated work to which they are tied by cowardice and inertia alone. Korczak, the petitioner suggested a trial period of four weeks, which, because of the urgency, should start that week with a room and two meals daily. "By a room I mean a place to sleep; meals if there are any, and if not - I can do without." 
    He signed the application: 
    Goldszmit-Korczak  February 9, 1942.

    Of course, the application was meant to be amusing - who on the Judenrat would refuse Janusz Korczak the thankless job of rescuing a thousand sickly orphans who were lying in filth and dying untended at the rate of ten and twelve a day? He was granted the position, but given only one thousand of the twenty thousand zlotys he requested for the institution.
    Gallows humor has the social effect of strengthening the morale of the oppressed!!!
    As Korczak expected, the corrupt staff members at the Dzielna Street shelter did everything they could to frustrate him during the few days a week he spent there trying to prevent their siphoning off the provisions meant for the children. His efforts made him feel "all smeared, bloodstained, stinking. And crafty, since I am alive-I sleep, eat, occasionally joke." But it became impossible to joke when he realized that he could not save most of the orphans. In spite of his efforts to see that they got the provisions intended for them, the mortality rate was sixty percent. There was simply not enough food or medical supplies. He felt guilty about eating anything there, no matter how weak from hunger he might be. He wrote in his diary: Long after the war, men will not be able to look each other in the eye without reading the question: How is it you happened to survive? How did you do it?.

    He sought help everywhere.
Dzielna 39
Pozostając dyrektorem Domu Sierot przy ul. Siennej/Śliskiej, Korczak chciał dopomóc także dzieciom w Głównym Domu Schronienia na Dzielnej. Liczba dzieci dochodziła tam do 500, a śmiertelność wśród nich była bardzo wysoka. Chociaż kwalifikacje Janusza Korczaka były powszechnie znane, musiał złożyć formalne podanie do Judenratu - Rady Żydowskiej. Korczak potraktował jako pretekst do spisania swojego życiorysu, określanego też jako testament. 

Placówka przy ul. Dzielnej 39 uchodziła za "umieralnię dzieci”.  Prof. Ludwik Hirszfeld tak opisał sytuację, jaka panowała w Głównym Domu Schronienia podczas okupacji: 

Było to piekło na ziemi... Przy wejściu uderzał zapach kału i moczu. Niemowlęta leżały zanieczyszczone, pieluch nie było, zimą mocz zamarzał i na tym lodzie leżały zamrożone trupki. Dzieci nieco starsze siedziały po całych dniach na podłodze lub ławeczkach, kiwały się monotonnie, jak zwierzęta, żyły od posiłku do posiłku, oczekując marnej, zbyt marnej strawy. Szalał dur plamisty, czerwonka. Lekarze nie byli złymi ludźmi, ale nie potrafili opanować niesłychanego wprost złodziejstwa personelu żerującego na tej nędzy.

Faktycznie, w styczniu 1942 r. zmarło w Głównym Domu Schronienia aż 96 dzieci.