The Nazi Holocaust: A Tribute to Janusz Korczak

Auschwitz: “Good Work Will Make Men Free”

Although this picture displays the deceitful welcoming message above the entry to the Auschwitz death camp, this brief note is written as a memorial for Janusz Korczak, a Polish Jew.

A few years after graduating from medical school, in 1912 Korczak became the director of the Jewish orphanage of Warsaw, providing empathic, clinically insightful care for children from the slums. From then on until his death, he worked at the orphanage.

Shortly after the beginning of the Nazis occupation of Warsaw, an order was made by the Germans demanding that all Jewish persons had to live in a small area of Warsaw that came to be known as the infamous “Warsaw Ghetto”, where they would be destined to perish. The orphanage that Korczak directed was also ordered to relocate to the ghetto, and he continued his work at the orphanage there.

On August 6, 1942, the Nazis issued an order that the two hundred children living in the Jewish orphanage of the Warsaw Ghetto were to be taken to a train station and packed into railroad cars. Korczak, like other Jews in the ghetto, knew that the train’s destination was the Treblinka death camp, where all of the children would be murdered in the gas chambers of Treblinka.

On the designated day for their arrival at the train station, Korczak appointed the oldest boy in the orphanage to lead the group, carrying a flag of hope, a four-leaf clover on a field of green–the emblem of the orphanage. Korczak walked immediately behind this leader, gently holding the hands of the two youngest children. Behind them, in excellent order, marched all the other children of the orphanage. The impression of the children’s self-confidence struck the policemen, who previously had been whipping and cursing the Jews into the railroad cars, so much that they immediately snapped to attention and officially saluted them. One of the guards was so deeply moved by this unexpected event that he told Korczak to leave–adamantly stating that only the children had been ordered to board the train. As he tried to move Korczak away from the children, Korczak refused to separate himself from the children and went with them to Treblinka, where they all would die.

Korczak’s freely chosen death would signify the utter righteousness of his life. After World War II, Janusz Korczak became a legend in Poland, Europe and other countries outside of Europe. He was posthumously awarded the German Peace Price and honored on the hundredth anniversary of his birthday by UNESCO officially declaring that year to be Korczak Year, as well as by Poland and many other countries. Pope Paul II stated that in our modern world, Janusz Korczak was a symbol of true religion and morality.

He should be memorialized today, serving to provide a true example for those who continue to work with young persons, as one who devoted his own life’s work as the most devoted friend of children.

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The French Quarter: A Reminiscence

Historic Apartment Rows in the French Quarter

The French Quarter

Very late last night, actually in the wee hours of the morning, I found myself repetetively searching for an image of a tiny, tiny house.  Finally, a sudden thought of New Orleans’ French Quarter emerged (along with a curiosity about how or why that had occurred).  Searching through my memories of last week, I began to realize the context within which this seemingly uncanny recollection had come into view.

Participating in a free-flowing discussion with a small group of adolescents, at a certain point our conversation shifted to issues related to achieving a stronger sense of one’s own particular vocational wishes, opportunities or potential choices.  These interactions included considerations about the differing, unique paths or journeys that individuals might take during that process.  In my own mind, I was thinking (associated with the element of freedom that we have, despite the constraints of “given realities”) that any choice that we make inevitably is accompanied by a sense of sacrifice and loss regarding the paths not taken.  That sense of sacrifice is amplified by an acknowledgment that those paths not taken are extensively unspecified and indeterminant.

One of the adolescents, knowing that I had originally come from a deeply antebellum part of the South, asked me whether I was happy that I stayed in Chicago after completing my training as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst.  I responded that I was extremely pleased that I had stayed.

But, if you could go back and make that decision again,” I was asked, “where else would you have most greatly enjoyed living and doing your clinical work?”  Emphasizing that this was, of course, within the realm of wishful thinking (as emotions about Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel” surfaced in the background), I said that I probably would have chosen to settle into the French Quarter, describing some of the many imagined enjoyable experiences of living quietly in a tiny courtyard apartment there. They all laughed in a cordial way and observed, “But you have so many things, even here in your office, it’s so cluttered, though in a warm and pleasant kind of way!”  “And you can just imagine what it’s like at home—clutter, clutter everywhere,” I answered, “but it manages to provide an atmosphere in which I actually can work in very creative ways.”

For me, the most important point to be taken from the overall commentary presented here is how the initial lack of any conscious sense of understanding about how or why my focus upon finding a satisfying image of a “tiny, tiny house” shifted to a thought of The French Quarter.  And, of course, the reference to a “tiny” courtyard apartment in The French Quarter during the reported group conversation of last week enabled me to unravel some of the previous ambiguity about the how the seemingly unassociated flow of ideas did contain a meaningful connection.

Perhaps all of this might strike some readers as an overly-long account of a seemingly minor event, but from a different perspective it might be understood as one particular example of the many, diverse ways that we all create in our attempts to organize the “clutter” with which we are continually confronted during the experiences of our everyday lives.

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On Self and Identity: A Critique

Chagall “Lithographe”

On Self and Identity

“Self” and “Identity are not facts about people; they are ways of thinking about people. Therefore, it doesn’t really make sense for us to say that someone “has a self or an identity,” as if each is a thing that actually may be had, possessed or discovered.

Self and identity are changeable. However it is the kind of changeability that derives from the fact that self and identity are not names of identifiable or concrete, monolithic entities. They are classes of (perhaps unformulated) self-experiences, which are quite varied in terms of scope, time of origin, vantage point and context.

Consider these examples: I hit myself (self= my body; I hate myself (self= my personality); I’m self-conscious (self= my actions); I’m self-sufficient (self= competence); I feel like my old self (self= sense of continuity); I’m selfish (self= my needs); my shame was self-inflicted (self= my agency); and I couldn’t contain myself (self= my subjective space).

The reifications of “self” and “identity,” then, center around the concretist idea that cognitive processes are substances, with such properties of matter as spacial location,weight, quantity and inertia. Similarly, our assumptions about feelings too often are identified with qualities of actual substances, substances to be withheld or expelled, gotten rid of or destroyed; or they may fill one up, explode, leak out or spill over. Feelings for others, in addition, in this manner are described as ties that may be cut (like ropes, umbilical cords, or sadistic chains), be substances that engulf, poison, paralyze, suffocate, or “murder” one’s “soul.”

Even though such archaic thinking is commonly used as metaphor in our communications about everyday life, more accurate perspectives would not ascribe substantiality to what are essentially cognitive and emotional processes.

THE GREAT GREEN ROOM

GOOD NIGHT….

In the late, quiet evening darkness, a simple, gentle and smooth passage into the comforts of sleep. Brief concluding nostalgic reminicense about the cherished feelings of unspoken interpersonal gratifications that emerged unbidden during the day.

And then… goodnight moon, goodnight stars, goodnight dear friends, goodnight everyone, goodnight nobody, goodnight air and goodnight noises everywhere.

Quaker Peace

Quaker Peace

When maintaining a belief that one of the most valuable efforts that we can make is to provide care for another, then the worst thing that we can do is pretend to look after another person when, in fact, we are doing something else.

This distinction, upon which possibly much of our sense of morality depends, is often unclear, because we are always likely to be doing both things at once (along with several others). Claims of love or unconditional care for another are not enough, for we also need to be aware of what is being taken when we take care of another.

Quentin Crisp: The Later Years

Quentin Crisp: The Later Years

The only concession Quentin made during his final years was to spend two days a week “doing absolutely nothing” in his tiny, cluttered step-down bedsitting room in the Bowery area of the Lower East Side. “I have to recharge my batteries.” During these quiet moments, Quentin did crosswords-“they are the aerobics of the soul”-and, at the end of each month, he would write in his diary.

Quentin Crisp:

“An autobiography is an obituary in serial form with the last installment missing.”

“There is no need to do any housework at all. After the first four years the dirt doesn’t get any worse.”

“The poverty from which I have suffered could be diagnosed as “Soho” poverty. It comes from having the airs and graces of a genius and no talent.”

Beasts in the Nursery

Tragedy in life (including the lesser tragedies of everyday life, such as the insults, accidents, and obstacles that arouse our emotional melodramas and annoying irritations) is experienced as a personal violation that unmasks our mostly unformulated assumptions about how we think our world should be, and the degree to which we assume that it actually is as we think it should be. Unexamined commitment to those assumptions inevitably leads us to embrace an illusory world that avoids the accepting awareness of major elements of our world as it really is, such as the inevitable facts of death and limited mortality already essentially contained in it.

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