Marek Edelman - Korczak (12/145)

Marek Edelman - Korczak (12/145)

To listen to more of Marek Edelman’s stories, go to the playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpEJsJK7ur8&list=PLVV0r6CmEsFy9YZLKSE0bbnuUJfcOBFxQ

Marek Edelman (1919-2009) was the last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. He had remained in Poland following the Nazi defeat and was active in domestic and international politics while at the same time becoming one of Poland’s leading cardiologists. [Listeners: Anka Grupinska, Joanna Klara Agnieszka Zuchowska, Joanna Szczesna; date recorded: 2003]

TRANSCRIPT: Korczak also had that sort of idea, he was a brilliant doctor, a great writer, he created great things but his method of bringing up children didn't appeal to us, or in any event it didn't do the children much good. Those punishments, they were awful. Those judgements where one child had to sentence another, his friend with whom he'd probably got into mischief and one had been caught while the other had got away, and in addition, one had to pass sentence on the other, I can't say what these punishments were, we had nothing to do with it. Korczak was a very difficult person, it was hard to have anything in common with him because during the war, opposite the Bersohn & Bauman hospital where I worked, they had their children's home as it had been moved to that site, and there were constant arguments between him and our chief doctor because he thought the hospital was stealing food from his children. He was very neurotic by then. I don't know, people tell stories which also point to something, that he always wore a Polish uniform while the Germans were there, at a time when it was obvious that any German out on the streets would punch his lights out seeing him dressed like that. That sort of behaviour wasn't exactly normal. This has nothing to do with his greatness, but it was a strange way to behave. He fought very fiercely for his children, for food for them but we weren't thrilled by the way he would take his children to see Mrs Goldberg and say, 'Kiss Mrs Goldberg's hand because she's given you an orange'. Or when he put on plays for those rich smugglers and members of the Gestapo, and after the children had performed a play, he'd get a sack of flour in return. We weren't thrilled by that, that wasn't a purely social way of bringing up those children.

In addition, well, I have to mention this odd thing. These young people were organised. All the youngsters who were organised came across in larger or smaller numbers to the Jewish Militant Organisation yet there wasn't one person there from Korczak's group. This also testifies to the way that he brought them up, it wasn't really a social upbringing he gave them. It was, I can't really say, because I had nothing to do with it but because the relationship between our hospital and Korczak were so tense, I didn't really like him as a person and so I wasn't really interested in all of this. Not just me, but all of my friends, too. Stasia Merenholc said that she'd had to hood-wink Korczak. She was a psychologist and she determined if a child qualified to be accepted into Korczak's children's home. So Korczak refused to accept children with an IQ lower than, I don't remember the exact level, but around 110, he only wanted to have geniuses. So Stasia, who was a teacher there, hood-winked him, as was usual there, by telling him that children with IQs of 80 or 70 had 110 so that he would take them in when there was a need, when they were in dire poverty.
So there were all kinds of small things, I'm not talking about his writing, his "Old Doctor" stories, his great literary talent, his social action, and so on, that he was an honest man, one of the greatest and so on, this is all true, and the fact that he went to the Umschlagplatz with his children and was taken away with them, this has all become the stuff of legend but it's all true and there's a seed of truth in every legend. We need to understand this. For example, when people say that these children walked in pairs carrying a flag, that's all invention, but it's true that he walked with them from Sienna or Śliska Street to the Umschlagplatz and it's true that he could have escaped to the Aryan side ten times because he had friends and acquaintances and he could have tried to hide there, but the truth is that he decided to go with his children. He wasn't the only one. But he is a symbol of all of those teachers who did go, because teachers from the Medem sanatorium also went with their children.
Marek Edelman - Korczak (12/145) backup