SELECTION OF WRITINGS
Henryk Goldszmit Residence: I6 Sienna – 9 Sliska Street, February 9, 1942.
Written in the Warsaw Ghetto 6 months before his death.
Kind friends urge me to write my last will. I am doing it now in my curriculum vitae, to go with the application for a job as a teacher in the orphanage at 39 Dzieina Street.
I am sixty-four. As to health, I received my certificate in jail last year. In spite of the exacting conditions there, not once did I report sick, not once did I go to the doctor, not once did I absent myself from gymnastics, dreaded even by my younger colleagues. I eat like a horse; sleep soundly; recently, after drinking ten shots of strong vodka, I returned home at a brisk pace from Rymarska Street to Sienna Street – late at night. I get up twice during the night to empty ten large night-pails.
I smoke, do not overindulge in liquor. mental faculties for everyday purposes – passable.
I am a master in the economy of effort; like Harpagon, I measure out every unit of energy to be expended.
I consider myself an expert in medicine, education, eugenics, politics.
Experience has endowed me with an appreciable ability for co-existing and collaborating even with criminal characters and with born imbeciles. Ambitious, obstinate fools cut me off their visiting list – though I do not return the compliment.
The last test I passed: tolerated a thoroughly unsuitable manager in my orphanage for well over a year;acting contrary to the interests of my own convenience and peace, I sought to persuade her to stay; she soon left of her own accord (a principle of mine: always prefer the deficiencies of the present staff to the advantages of the new one).
I anticipate that the criminal characters among the staff of the orphanage at Dzieina Street will voluntarily resign from the hated work to which they are tied by cowardice and inertia alone.
I graduated from secondary school and university in Warsaw. My education was complemented in the clinics of Berlin (one year) and Paris (six months). A month’s excursion to London helped me to understand the quintessence of charity work (a rewarding experience).
My masters in medicine were:
Professor Przewoski (anatomy and bacteriology), Nasonow (zoologist), Szczerbakow (psychiatry), and the pediatricians Rnkelsztein, Baginski, Marfan, Hutinel ( Berlin , Paris).
(On a day off – visits to orphanages, reformatories, places of detention for so-called juvenile delinquents.) One month in a school for retarded children, one month in Ziehen’s neurological clinic.
My masters in the hospital at Sliska Street:
Koral, the cynic and nihilist, the jovial Kramsztyk the serious Gantz, the fine diagnostician Eliasberg, and also the medical assistant Slizewski and a selfless nurse, Laja.
I expect to meet a few of the kind of Laja in the children’s slaughterhouse (and morgue) at 39 Dzieina Street.
Hospital revealed to me how dignified, mature and sensible children could be when face-to-face with death.
Books on statistics deepened my understanding of the medical art (statistics taught me the inexorability of logical thinking and unbiased judgment of fact). Having weighed and measured children for a quarter of a century, I have become the owner of a priceless collection of graphs – growth profiles of children at school-age and puberty.
With the Jewish child I came in touch for the first time as an overseer at the Markiewicz summer vacation camp in Michalowka. Several years of work in a free lending library afforded me rich observation material.
My teachers in civic work:
Nalkowski, Straszewicz, Dawid, Dygasinski, Prus, Asnyk, Konopnicka, Jozef Pilsudski.
The initiation into the world of insects and plants I owe to Maeterlinck, into the life of minerals – to Ruskin. As for writers, I owe most to Chekhov – a great social diagnostician and clinician.
I visited Palestine twice, learned to appreciate its “bitter beauty” (Jabotinsky: "The bitter beauty of Palestine"); I familiarized myself with the Dynamics and technique of life of the Halutz and the Moshav settlers (Symkhoni, Gur-Arie, Braverman).
I became familiar for the second time with the marvellous machinery of a live system in an effort to adjust to a strange climate: first – Manchuria ; now – Palestine.
I familiarized myself with the recipe of wars and revolutions – I took direct part in the Japanese and the European wars, in the civil war (Kiev) and in the Polish war against the Bolsheviks; now, as a civilian – I study the rear and the wings with great care. Otherwise, I should have persisted in my resentment and disdain of the civilian.
My jobs so far:
Seven years with intermission, as sole house-surgeon at the Sliska street hospital
Nearly a quarter of a century in the Orphanage.
Fifteen years in “Our Home” – Pruszkow, Pold Bielanskie
About six months in institutions for destitute Ukrainian children
I have served as expert at the district court for juvenile delinquents.
I reviewed German and French periodicals for the Polish National Health Insurance for four years.
Evacuation points at Kharbin and Taolay-Jou.
A sanitary train (carrying V. D. patients from the revolutionary army from Kharbin to Khabarovsk).
Assistant doctor at a divisional field hospital.
Epidemic hospital in Lodz (dysentery epidemic).
Epidemic hospital at Kamionek.
As a citizen and an employee, I am obedient but not disciplined.
I have calmly accepted punishment for disobedience (the release from hospital of the family of a lieutenant personally unknown to me – because they were illegally hospitalised – resulted in typhus for myself).
I am not ambitious. I have been asked to write the childhood memoirs of the Marshal – and refused. I never saw him personally, although I collaborated with Mrs. Ola.
As an organizer, I cannot play the big boss. A handicap here and elsewhere – my myopia and complete lack of visual memory. The far-sightedness that comes with increasing age has compensated for the first defect; the second has grown worse. There is a good side to this: being unable to recognize people, I concentrate on the problem at hand – do not become prejudiced, bear no grudges.
I am unbalanced, excitable, a scatterbrain; but tediously developed self-control has enabled me to engage in teamwork.
The trial-period I suggest should be four weeks from my starting – in view of the urgency that should be on Wednesday, at the latest on Thursday.
Kindly provide a room and two meals daily.
I make no other conditions, having learned not to do so by unpleasant and painful experiences (not mine). By a room, I mean a place to sleep; meals as they come, and if it comes to that – I can do without.
Why do I clear the table?
I know that many are dissatisfied at my clearing the table after me als. 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 co me s 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 some thing 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 some how they think they are even taking advantage of me.
How is it 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 so me ideas. For if I do so me thing, I never do it thoughtlessly. This waiter’s job is of great use to me, it’s pleasant and interesting.
But this is not important. It is so me thing 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 Dzieina 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 Krochmaina 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.*
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. Roza 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.
Special Note: Dzieina Street was set up as a hospital for the sick and dying children in the Warsaw ghetto. Several thousand children were crammed into a space meant for just a few hundred. Korczak described it as “a mortuary where corpses crawl, run by bandits and thieves who robbed the children of any food or help.” The children were left lying on the floor like animals amidst their own excrement. Typhus and dysentery took their toll. Korczak could not tolerate the suffering of these children and demanded to be put in charge of the hospital, even though he was committed to the impossible task of caring for the children at his orphanage. Together with two of his colleagues he restored relative order within a few weeks and spent all his spare time tending to the dying. He arranged for makeshift bunks to be built, so that the children could die with care and dignity. This was perhaps the first hospice of its kind.