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[Page 195]

The Medem Sanatorium

by Shloymo Gilinski

Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Edited by Janie Respitz

The life-story of the Medem Sanatorium in Miedzeszyn, near Warsaw, begins on January 18, 1926 when its doors were officially opened for a group of 14 Jewish children from the Yiddish school system in Warsaw. We had long prepared for this day, its roots can be traced to earlier TSYSHO summer colonies, where counselors often noted the poor health of children from urban working-class families. The day was solemn but it was an eventful occasion for friends, parents and teachers from the Yiddish schools.

The Medem Sanatorium was first founded as a healing sanctuary for children with tuberculosis. The toll after the First World War was great and in all of Poland there was no way to heal these sick Jewish children. This was the biggest worry for their urban working-class parents not to have any treatment for their small children. Teachers, together with community workers, admitted to this worry and determined the need: in this time of need the Jewish child had to abandon his studies and evidently his shortfall would stunt his development.

* * *

Shloyme Gilinski was born in a small town of Lingmian, in Lithuania in 1888. He studied in Khadorim yeshives, gymnasiums and the university. A God blessed pedagogue-his entire life was devoted to his community service. Since 1910 he was in Warsaw, he was deeply devoted on a daily basis to all things involving Yiddish, school programs and organizations. One time a councilman in the Warsaw municipality, another time a representative for the Jewish community in Warsaw, author of Jewish schoolbooks, particularly in mathematics. It became appointed as the crown of Jewish public hygiene in all of Europe, known as the “Medem Sanatorium” and took root in 1926-Gilinski became the supervisor until 1939. The end came with the Nazi invasion, and via Japan Gilinski arrived in New York. Here he was the executive-secretary of General Encyclopedia in Yiddish. He died September 1961. We are presenting an outline of the authentic and first hand accounts of one of the most important institutions of Warsaw.

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The home was not only a study-institute but also a home for the child; a home that fed, clothed, and looked after his body and soul. Bringing the children to the summer camp was difficult. The doctors had to meet strict protocols. The children who needed it the most could not partake.

Many different means were sought to help the children. In 1921 the Medem-Dinezon-Reichman school (at that time the committee for the Yiddish schools) with the help of the “Peoples Relief” and the “Joint” established a camp for children with tuberculosis in Otwock, near Warsaw. Those officials chosen were, Dr. Ana Broida-Heller, Dr. A. Kruk, David Mayer, Abramsohn, Dr. B. Eizenstadt, and S. Gilinski; who became the permanent staff of this institution. Due to insufficient funds this dream didn't realize. In a similar manner another camp of this kind was also abandoned in Michalin. Only at the end of 1922 when our devoted friend of the Yiddish child, Vladamir Medem (already in America at that time) provided several thousand dollars, the TYSHO stepped in to build, in the wooded area Miedeszyn outside Warsaw, a sanatorium for children afflicted by tuberculosis. Due to limited funds again, the work took over 3 years, and only on January 18, 1926, the dream of a healing-clinic for the unfortunate children became a reality. A symbol for outstanding care in the Jewish life of Poland.

The Medem Sanatorium became renowned throughout Poland and Europe, not only as a medical clinic-but for its principles-as a healing-educational institute for children [with educational reforms]. The educational character was based on the TSYSHO school system and summer camp; here it was also broadened to become an institute. The Medem –Sanatorium's organization and leadership was led by a teacher (the writer of these lines), together with the close collaboration with a doctors' committee( Ana Broida-Heller, N. Spielfogel-Lichtenboim, T, Simkovitch, A. Kruk) who instituted a strict medical regime so as not to be known only for its hospital-spirit.

The approach to the child was educational, one could separate the body from the soul. As we heal the body, the soul also need nourishment. Other qualifications and an understanding of the child. The healing-clinic together with our other protocols produced an atmosphere of mutual trust.

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So its popularity grew from day to day. The children arrived here with sad, lifeless eyes and pale faces. In a short-time they began to bloom physically and spiritually. The celebrity of the sanatorium was passed from child to child. From mother to mother, from teacher to teacher. Thousands of Jewish children from cities and villages across Poland dreamed to “sneak” into the Medem Sanatorium., in this “Paradise for Children”. Even healthy children dreamed of the Medem Sanatorium. Children asked the writer of these lines (Shloyme Gilinski):..when will they build a sanatorium for healthy children?

Considering the amount of the children in Poland who needed the medical clinic, the space in the beginning at the sanatorium was limited. From 70 in the beginning, the amount in the last years went to 140 and in the winter months to 350-in the summer months. The children who had the luck to get in often waited months and even up to a year for an opening. The sanatorium began to expand and grow. But due to endless lack of funds the work went slowly. Children remained here from 2 to 6 months, in some cases a year or more. Some children came for a second or third and even a fifth time. Their stay in the sanatorium healed them. The old “Sanatorialists” as we called them, were the backbone of the basic management that would shape their life. And here the children, or better-young adults, later under the Nazis, became the teachers and directors of the sanatorium.

The love for the child became the foundation of life in the Medem-Sanatorium, the love for the child was the supreme pedagogical commandment for every teacher, educator and associate. Doctors, teachers, sanatorium and technical associates, which were endowed by their nature for their devotion, love for the child, where drawn to this institution. Everyone, without exception had one goal: creating conditions, that that child would attain the very best the sanatorium has to offer. The joy and the happiness of the child was the joy and the happiness of the teacher, the doctor and all the personnel. A celebration for the child was the biggest celebration for all the doctors. Every success of an individual was the success for the institution. The love for the child and to his success, was connected to the satisfaction of each and every person. Love was the foundation and the secret for this great creativity, and for all its goals for its pedagogical and cultural foundation.

The self-management program provided the child the best way to grow up

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to become independent, responsible, and social adults.

Ethical concepts stressing humanity, brotherhood, and solidarity were stressed instead of religious practice. which pertain to the livelihood of the children of the sanatorium and some functionaries, all directed by the children. All the children took part in this self-government, only those 8 years and younger did not. The Children's Council elected organizers, representatives, committees, and other things. Library-committee, co-operative, lectures, cultural-committees and others.

Personal responsibility, a collective spirit, a work ethic, and self-discipline were taught in ways tailored to children. Nature and fresh air played an important role. Gardening, tending to animals, and natural history lessons were part of the daily routine; the patients were both observers and active participants. Games, creativity, and artistic talents were fostered in a variety of ways.

In the area of language, together with the teacher, doctor, gardener, the children were encouraged to search for new words and existing words for things they had not seen before arriving at the sanatorium or things that they used in Polish words for… On the wall, biological charts were written in Polish: wandering branches (insects which resembled branches), water-dragonflies, star-fish, octopus, Eidel-weiss, pedergrass,..?. The children made up nicknames for the various sanatorium departments: the correspondents of the daily newspaper “Our Radio”, for example, was called: sharp-ear, pencil-tip,, air-catcher among others. The streets and alleys in the Sanatorium were given the following names: Good appetite Place,(care to be outside), Chatter Corner, Friendship Street, Forgotten Corner, Longing Alley(where children could wait for their parents' visits). They would often organize competitions to choose names for various areas of work.

The Sanatorium demanded full tolerance to different ideologies particularly for the few religious children. After a few days they felt entirely free. When distributing tasks they made sure religious children would not have to work on the Sabbath and not early in the morning when pious boys had to pray. Thanks to this tolerance and freedom the religious children quickly assimilated with the other children.

A fragment from “Teacher-Memorial-Book”, New York, 1952-1954

 

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