Thursday, July 26, 2012

Korczak - Yesterday’s rainbow and July 27, 1942

Janusz Korczak wrote on July 27, 1942 - Yesterday’s rainbow

On August 5th, 1942 he was deported and murdered in Treblinka.

Yesterday’s rainbow.

A marvelous big moon over the camp of the homeless pilgrims.

Why can’t I calm this unfortunate, insane quarter.

Only one brief communiqué.

The authorities might have allowed it.

Or, at worst, refused it.

Such a lucid plan.

Declare yourself, make your choice. We do not offer a choice of easy roads. No playing bridge for the time being, no sunbathing, no delicious dinners paid for with the blood of the smugglers.

Choose: either get out, or work here on the spot.

If you stay, you must do whatever may be necessary for the re-settlers.

The autumn is near. They will need clothes, footwear, underwear, tools.

Anyone trying to wiggle out of it will be caught, anyone wanting to buy himself out—we shall gladly take his jewelry, foreign currency, anything of value. When he has already surrendered all—and fast—then we shall ask him again:

“Here or out there? What have you decided?”

So long as there’s no sunbathing on the beaches, no bridge and no pleasant nap after reading the newspaper.

You’re a social worker? All right. You can even pretend it for a time and we shall pretend to believe you. In general, we believe as long as it is convenient and whatever is convenient. Excuse me: not convenient. Whatever is in the plan.

We are running a gigantic enterprise. Its name is war. We work in a planned, disciplined manner, methodically. Your petty interests, ambitions, sentiments, whims, claims, resentments, cravings do not concern us.

Of course—a mother, a husband, a child, an old woman, a family heirloom, a favorite dish—they are all very nice, pleasant, touching. But for the present, there are more important things. When there is time to spare, we shall return to such things, too.

Meanwhile, in order not to prolong the matter, things must get a bit rough and painful, and if I may put it that way, without particular precision, elegance or even scrupulousness. Just roughly cut for current expediency.

You yourself are longing to see all this over. So are we. Therefore, don’t interfere.

Jews go East. No bargaining. It is no longer the question of a Jewish grandmother but of where you are needed most—your hands, your brain, your time, your life. Grandmother. This was necessary only to hook on to something, a key, a slogan.

You say you cannot go East—you will die there. So choose something else. You are on your own, you must take the risk. For clearly we, to keep up appearances, are obliged to bar the way, to threaten, prosecute and reluctantly to punish.

And you butt in, uninvited, with a fresh wad of bank notes. We have neither time nor desire for that sort of thing. We are not playing at war, we were told to wage it with the greatest possible expedition, efficiently, as honestly as possible.

The job is not clean, or pleasant, or sweet smelling. So for the present we must be indulgent to the workers we need.

One likes vodka, another woman, a third likes to boss everyone around while yet another, by contrast, is meek and lacks self-confidence.

We know: they have their vices, shortcomings. But they reported in time while you were philosophizing, procrastinating. Sorry, but the train must run on schedule, according to a timetable prepared in advance. Here are the railroad tracks.

The Italians, the French, the Romanians, the Czechs, the Hungarians—this way. The Japanese, the Chinese, even the Solomon Islanders, even the cannibals—the other way. Farmers, highlanders, the middle class and the intelligentsia.

We are Germans. It is not a question of the trademark but of the cost, the destination of the products.

We are the steel roller, the plow, the sickle. So long as it bears fruit. And it will, provided you don’t interfere, don’t whine, get all upset, and poison the air. We may feel sorry for you at times, but we must use the whip, the big stick or the pencil, because there must be order. A poster.

“Whoever does this or that—will be shot.” “Whoever does not do this or that—we will shoot.” Someone seems to be asking for it. A suicide? Too bad. Someone else is not afraid. Hail! A hero?

Let his name shine in letters of gold but—now, out of the way since there is no alternative.

A third is afraid—livid with fear, constantly runs to the toilet, dulls himself with tobacco, liquor, women, and obstinately wants his own way. What would you do with him?

The Jews have their merits. They have talent, and Moses, and Christ, and are hard working, and Heine, are an ancient race, and progress, and Spinoza, and yeast and pioneering and generous. All true. But besides the Jews, there are other people, and there are other issues.

The Jews are important, but later—you will understand some day. Yes, we know and remember. An important issue, but not the only one.

We do not blame. It was the same with the Poles and it is the same even now with Poland and Palestine, and Malta, and Martinique, and with the respectable proletarian, and the fair sex and the orphan, with militarism and capitalism. But not all at once. There must be some order of procedure, some priorities.

It’s hard for you, it’s not easy for us, either. The more so since there is no buffet handy where formerly one could escape from a wearisome discussion.

You must listen my friend, to History’s program speech about the new chapter.

I know that many are dissatisfied at my clearing the table after meals. Even the orderlies seem to dislike it. Surely they can manage. There are enough of them. If there were not, one or two always could be added. Then why the ostentation, the obstinacy, and even maybe I’m nasty enough to pretend to be diligent and so democratic.

Even worse, if anyone comes to see me on important business, I tell him to wait, saying:

“I am occupied now.”

What an occupation: picking up soup bowls, spoons and plates.

But worse still is that I do it clumsily, get in the way while the second helping is being passed. I bump against those sitting tightly packed at the tables. Because of me he cannot lick clean his soup plate or the tureen. Someone may even lose his second helping.

Several times something fell from the plates carried clumsily. If anyone else had done it, he would be told off and have a case against him. Because of this eccentricity some seem to feel guilty for letting me do it, others feel guilty because somehow they think they are even taking advantage of me.

How is that I myself do not understand or see how it is? How can anyone understand why I do it when right now I am writing that I know, see and understand that instead of being helpful I make a nuisance of myself?

Odd. I sense that everybody thinks I should not pick up the dishes, but nobody has ever asked why I do it. Nobody has approached me: Why do you do it? Why do you get in the way?

But here is my explanation:
When I collect the dishes myself, I can see the cracked plates, the bent spoons, the scratches on the bowls. I expedite the clearing of the tables and the side table used for the little shop, so that the orderlies can tidy up sooner. I can see how the careless diners throw about, partly in a quasi-aristocratic and partly in a churlish manner, the spoons, knives, the salt shakers and cups, instead of putting them in the right place. Sometimes I watch how the extras are distributed or who sits next to whom. And I get some ideas. For if I do something, I never do it thoughtlessly. This waiter’s job is of great use to me, it’s pleasant and interesting.

But not this is important. It is something quite different. Something that I have spoken and written about many times, that I have been fighting against for the past thirty years, since the inception of the Children’s Home, fighting without a hope of victory, without visible effect, but I don’t want to and cannot abandon that fight.

My aim is that in the Children’s Home there should be no soft work or crude work, no clever or stupid work, no clean or dirty work. No work for nice young ladies or for the mob. In the Children’s Home, there should be no purely physical and no purely mental workers.

At the institution at Dzielna Street run by the City Council, they look at me with shock and disgust when I shake hands with the charwoman, even when she happens to be scrubbing the stairs and her hands are wet. But frequently I forget to shake hands with Dr. K., and I have not been responding to the bows of Drs. M. and B.

I respect honest workers. To me their hands are clean and I hold their opinions in high esteem.

The washerwoman and the janitor at Krochinalna Street used to be invited to join our meetings, not just to please them but in order to take their advice and benefit from their assistance as specialists in matters which would otherwise be left unresolved, i.e. be placed under paragraph 3. (Par. 3 of the Home’s Code read: “The Court doesn’t know how it was in fact, and thus refuses to consider the case.”)

There was a joke in a weekly newspaper of twenty years ago. Actually not a joke but a witty comment.

Josek - I don’t remember which one, there were many of them—could not solve a problem in arithmetic. He tried hard and long, and finally said:

“I don’t know how to do it. I place it under paragraph three.”

No one is better or wiser because he is working in the storeroom rather than pushing the wheelbarrow. No one is better or wiser just because he can wield power. I am not
better or wiser for signing the passes, or donation receipts. This brainless work could be done more conscientiously and better by a youngster from third or even second grade.

The collector of money, a rude woman, is a nobody to me. Mr. Lejzor is a fine fellow though he digs in the filth of the sewage pipes and canals. Miss Nacia would deserve respect from me if she peeled potatoes instead of being a typist. And it is not my fault that Miss Irka, the nurse, shifts the inferior jobs onto Mira and that Mrs. Róza Sztokman, whom I also respect, once in a while may not scrub the toilet or the kitchen floor just to have a rest.

In farming, this is called crop rotation. In hygiene and medicine—a change of climate. In church—an act of humility. The Pope is called Holy Father, big men kneel down before him and kiss his slipper. And, once a year, the Pope washes the feet of twelve beggars in the church.

The Jews are conceited and that is why they are despised. I believe this will change, perhaps soon. Meanwhile, please don’t get cross with me for collecting the dishes or emptying the buckets in the toilet.

Whoever says, “Physical work is dirty work,” is lying. Worse still the hypocrite who says, “No one should be ashamed of any work,” but picks for himself only clean work, avoids what is described as dirty work and thinks that he should keep out of the way of dirty work.