Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Dom Sierot remembered by Joseph Steinhart - he orphanage and Korczak were a big part of his life. I can’t remember a single conversation with him that didn’t include some reference to the orphanage, Korczak, and its staff.

Drawing of Dom Sierot by Joseph Steinhart

Joseph Steinhart when at Korczaks Dom Sierot

So it started. I wrote an e-mail to David Rotenstein in USA as I wanted to know more about his grandfather and about the drawings of Dom Sierot his grandfather did.
In two hours I got the mail from David.

Thank you for writing. “Joe” was my grandfather, Joseph Steinhart (1904-1994). He did a couple of drawings of the orphanage and I believe they are in the collections of Yad Vashem. I don’t know how his trip to the U.S. was arranged but he arrived at Ellis Island Oct. 6, 1920, aboard the Noordam out of Rotterdam. Although oral history is a big part of my work as a professional historian, I never got the chance to interview my grandfather — something I will always regret.

The orphanage and Korczak were a big part of his life. I can’t remember a single conversation with him that didn’t include some reference to the orphanage, Korczak, and its staff. Several writers did interview my grandfather and some of his memories are preserved in their work, e.g., Mark Bernheim’s unremarkable 1989 Korczak biography, "Father of the Orphans - The Story of Janusz Korczak.”

I would love to learn more about your father and his experiences. Have they been published?
David Rotenstein

"Józio" (?) - Joseph Steinhart, arrived at age 15 to Ellis Island. It was October 6, 1920. He was an orphan at 92 Krochmalna. When in USA he made several drawings of Dom Sierot.
He remembers:
I first met Dr Goldszmit in I9I2, at the age of 7. From the first day I came to the Orphanage (Dom Sierot, Krochmlna 92) I became a problem and a challenge to him.

I was the youngest in my family, and my father’s death was very traumatic. When the family was separating, I felt that my world was collapsing, and I withdrew into a shell. I kept to myself, and when I walked, I kept staring at the floor. At first, Dr Goldszmit believed that my behaviour was caused by the strange environment but when, after a few weeks, there was no improvement, he began devising solutions.

In those days, mens shirt collars were detachable. Many collars were made of rubber or plastic, to make them easy to clean.

He had me wear a high rubber collar, to force me to keep my head high. That did not work because I stood out like a sore thumb. and the children began poking fun at me.

The collar was removed, and he began to talk to me, in an attempt to build up my confidence, and to convince me that things were not as bad as I imagined them to be. He assured me that I was smart enough to handle any situation. It helped because I began to show an improvement.

During those talking sessions, Dr Goldszmit learned a great deal about me, but I also learned something about him, namely, that he cared about me not just as a patient, but also as a human being.

After a while he devised the ultimate confidence builder. At the Orphanage, the children had a place for their personal belongings. Young children had drawers, and the older children had little lockers with keys. I was not old enough to have a locker, but Dr Goldszmit gave me one anyway. The locker after all was a status symbol – something for the younger children to look forward to. To me. however, it was proof that he had confidence in me.

I did not have that locker very long because in 1914, at the outbreak of World War 1, Dr Goldszmit went into the army, and Miss Stefa Wilezynska took it away, and gave it to a girl. By that time, I was already out of my shell to tell her in no uncertain terms, what I thought of her, I must confess, that as a child, I was not very forgiving. For the rest of my stay at the Orphanage, I never felt close to her. As a matter of fact, I was suspicious of everything she did.

One of Dr Goldszmit’s greatest accomplishments was that he was able to create an atmosphere in the orphanage, that was free of fear. There was no corporal punishment, and all infractions were tried by a court of our peers. There were very few discipline problems, because the children had enormous love and respect for Dr Goldszmit and Miss Stefa.
Some people criticized Dr Goldszmit and Miss Stefa because the children were not getting enough preparation to enable them to function after they leave the orphanage. The biggest complaint was that the orphanage was a training school for nursemaids for wealthy families. This criticism was not valid in the context of the period.

I was one of only five boys who attended a vocational school. It was licensed as 
Szkoła rzemieślnicza przy Towarzystwie Dostarczania Pracy Ubogim Żydom  (4 year vocational school by the Society for Providing Work for Poor Jews). I graduated in 1920 at the age of 15 and a half. I was small for my age, and in a graduating class of 18, 19 and 20 year olds, I looked like a midget. My classmates treated me as an equal.

Building at 36 Stawki street in Warszawa of Szkoła rzemieślnicza przy Towarzystwie Dostarczania Pracy Ubogim Żydom

More to read of Steinharts story? Pls open the link to Sandra Josephs page.

During my stay at the Orphanage, Dr Goldszmit was still young, and full of ideas. It was also the first opportunity that he had to test his pedagogical theories. From my descriptions, we can see how well they worked. It also shows that he was one of those rare people who practiced what they preached. Dr Goldszmit was a special person, and everyone who came into contact with him was affected by his humanity and wisdom. I was.

Holiday Florida U.S.A. March 24, 1982.

Concerning sketches made by Joseph Steinhart of the Dom Sierot from outside and inside I hope to get the copies of them soon. 
However, I feel that they are done out of the well known photographs but I am curious anyhow!