Tuesday 6 December 2011

A message to the children : by Miriam Halahmy

Janusz Korczak was born in 1878 in Warsaw into a Jewish family. A doctor and an author he had a great empathy with children and in particular orphans. His philosophy about how to treat children, which included regarding them as individuals and treating them with respect, was way ahead of its time. But Korczak became caught up in the Nazi invasion as Director of the Warsaw Ghetto Orphanage. On August 6th 1942 Korczak, his staff and 200 children were deported from the ghetto and murdered in Treblinka.

In 2004 I visited the former orphanage of the Warsaw Ghetto ( pictured above) with a group from my synagogue. 

One of our members, Jeffrey Segal, an actor, read to us in the orphanage grounds, from Korczak's final words written in his ghetto diary.  He was driven almost mad by his daily search for food donations for the 200 children in his care. " Aug 2nd 1942. Our Father who art in heaven... This prayer was carved out of hunger and misery. Our daily bread. Bread."

On the bus out of Warsaw up to Treblinka where Korczak and the children were deported and killed on arrival I wrote a poem, A message to the children.
 This year ( 2011) the poem was set to music by Helen Bonney, author and composer and a soundtrack recorded by her son Jack Cooke. The poem has been published in Poetry Salzburg and was set as an essay question for a student on the English degree at Salzburg University. The student called the poem, “an artefact.”

In the poem I tried to imagine what Korzcak might have said to the children the night before they are to be deported. The first two lines come from a speech he made in the 1920s to a group of children leaving the orphanage in happier times. But on that dreadful night in 1942 what could he offer the children, but to take their hand and go on the journey with them?
The next morning, Aug 6th 1942, the children were given a little bag with a piece of bread and a bottle of water. They were dressed in clean clothes and their hair was neatly combed. Then they had to march, four by four, through the streets to the siding where the cattle cars were waiting.
 Armed soldiers lined their route, /even as the pavements weep beneath your feet/

Monument to Korczak and the children in the Warsaw Jewish cemetery

You can listen to the song here and read the text of the poem:
You can find out more about Janusz Korczak at this link


Joan Lennon said...

Oh Miriam how heart-breaking. Thank you for your poem.

Roz Cawley said...

Miriam - I encountered much about the Holocaust during my MA course in Death Studies over the last four years. Each time I found it unbearable to read about, I reminded myself how lucky I was to be only reading about it, not experiencing it.
Each time i hear of another piece of the jigsaw, another terrible, piteous event, my heart breaks open anew. I pray for myself and for others that our hearts will never stop being broken open by these stories, because it is only by that breaking, that immediacy, that reminding, that we will stay vigilantly on watch that such things should never happen again. Because they could.
Thank you for breaking my heart open again. x

Miriam Halahmy said...

It's such a difficult one this - because I know I will be breaking people's hearts and yet I felt that the story and the song had to be shared. One lovely friend said that after hearing the song she woke up in the middle of the night in tears. Feel very responsible.

Kay G. said...

Hello Miriam,
What a moving poem you wrote. Why is it that we know every starlet's trivial story from the news, but not this one?
Thank you for sharing this and once again, thank you for this beautiful poem in remembrance of the children.

Lynda Waterhouse said...

terribly moving Miriam. I recall watching a film about Korczak years ago and being haunted by the story. Your poem encaspulates the pain, the dignity, terror and love in an agonsing moment

Liz Kessler said...

Heartbreaking story and beautiful, beautiful poem Miriam.

Liz x

Kate Thompson said...

This is such important work that you are doing. Thank you for bringing this to us.
and thank you for this beautiful blog.

adele said...

A very moving post, Miriam. Thank you.

Mary Hoffman said...

As Roz said, unbearable.

Sue Barrow said...

Such an affecting poem Miriam - thank you. So important to keep sharing these stories and bringing them to a new generation.

Unknown said...

The power of poetry... thanks for sharing it with us, Miriam.

Leslie Wilson said...

Hugely moving - and it makes me angry as well as sad, because I cannot understand why people want to make such policies. I can understand how people allow the evil to happen, or cannot stop it happening. But to actually plan to do it, as they sat down to do in that villa on the Wannsee -
As well as remembering and mourning for the dead, I'm just so aware of the children whose lives are destroyed nowadays - maybe often through indifference rather than murder - but still destroyed, and sometimes their deaths bring profits to our pension funds and cheap prices to our shops. And one can't campaign for EVERYTHING of course. Still, I do think it is important to do what one can, where one can.