A Page from the Deportation Diary
by Wladyslaw Szlengel
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch
I saw Janusz Korczak walking today,
leading the children, at the head of the line.
They were dressed in their best clothes—immaculate, if gray.
Some say the weather wasn’t dismal, but fine.
They were in their best jumpers and laughing (not loud),
but if they’d been soiled, tell me—who could complain?
They walked like calm heroes through the haunted crowd,
five by five, in a whipping rain.
The pallid, the trembling, watching high overhead
through barely cracked windows, were transfixed with dread.
Every now and then, from the loud, tolling bell
a strange moan escaped, like a sea gull’s wailed cry.
Their “superiors” watched, their bleak eyes hard as stone,
so let us not flinch, friend, as they march on, to die.
Footfalls . . . then silence . . . the cadence of feet . . .
O, who can console them, their last mile so drear?
The church bells peal on, over shocked Leszno Street.
Will Jesus Christ save them? The high bells career.
No, God will not save them. Nor you, friend, nor I.
But let us not flinch, as they march on, to die.
No one will offer the price of their freedom.
No one will proffer a single word.
His eyes hard as gavels, the silent policeman
agrees with the priest and his terrible Lord:
“Give them the Sword!”
At the town square, dear friend, there is no intervention.
No one tugs Schmerling’s sleeve. No one cries:
“Rescue the children!” The air, thick with tension,
reeks with the odor of *****, and lies.
How calmly he walks, with a child in each arm:
Gut Doktor Korczak, please keep them from harm!
A fool rushes up with a reprieve in hand:
“Look Janusz Korczak—please look, you’ve been spared!”
No use for that. One resolute man,
uncomprehending that no one else cared
—not enough to defend them—
his choice is to end with them.
What can he say to the thick-skulled conferer
of such sordid blessings?
Should he whisper, “Mein Führer!”
then arrange window dressings?
It’s too late for lessons.
His last rites are kisses
for two hundred children
the wailing world “misses”
but he alone befriended
and with his love, defended.
But dear friend, never fear:
be absolved by a Tear!
Wladyslaw Szlengel (1912-1943) was a Jewish-Polish poet, lyricist, journalist and stage actor. A victim of the Holocaust, he and his wife died during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Janusz Korczak (c. 1878-1942) was a Jewish-Polish educator and children’s author who refused to abandon the Jewish orphans in his care and accompanied them to their deaths at the hands of the Nazis at the Treblinka extermination camp. Keywords/Tags: Holocaust, poem, Janusz Korczak, Wladyslaw Szlengel, children, orphans, Warsaw, Treblinka, genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, antisemitism, intolerance, injustice, ******, horror, terror, Nazis