Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bronxville Days, Part 7

Almost from that first day in late November when she had taken over the sixth-grade class, Miss Goldstein had begun to suspect that her predecessor's mental affliction had been worsened by the behavior of her students, that it was likely they had baited her, deliberately provoked her to fits of rage just for the theatrical thrill of it.
She was beginning to realize how cruel children can be. A sickening feeling came over her when she witnessed the way her students treated Katrina.

Pretty and a little plump, Katrina had long blond hair that she frequently wore in two braids. She almost never smiled and rarely looked up from her book, or her desk, or her feet. She seldom spoke, and when she did her words were barely audible. She would have gone unnoticed and unheard if not for her German accent.

Katrina was the target of merciless teasing. She could not utter a complete sentence without inciting a chorus of giggles. Boys would follow her down the hall, goose-stepping like Nazi soldiers. They would click their heels and say "Heil, Hitler!" all the time. She was excluded from all games and conversations. Her classmates shunned her.

What worried Miss Goldstein the most was the hate she sometimes perceived. It was not obvious, more like a chilling draft from a mysterious source. Did these students inherit animosity for a former enemy from their parents, many who fought against the Germans not so long ago? Although the war had been over for 15 years, Adolf Eichmann, the "architect of the Holocaust," had only recently been captured in Argentina by Israeli agents.

One day, just before Christmas vacation, Katrina was ill and did not come to school. Miss Goldstein took the opportunity to scold the class, and she did so vehemently and passionately. The effect was that the children felt mortified and deservedly embarrassed by their behavior.
Some of her classmates made promises to themselves to be especially kind to Katrina when she returned, but the child did not come to school the next day, nor the next. Then the long Christmas break arrived, and when they came back to P.S. 8 in January, Katrina wasn't there. Her father had been transferred to a job in another city, and the family had moved.

"I hope you're all very satisfied with yourselves," Miss Goldstein said. I hope you're very happy with how cruelly you treated that little girl."
Her stinging sarcasm was not necessary. The wound had been inflicted, and there was now no chance it would heal.

I still think about Katrina. I am haunted by the desperate sadness that I imagine was in her eyes, and by regret and my own guilt about the misery heaped upon her.


Anonymous said...

Archbishop Sheen said that wars are only projections of the conflicts waged inside the souls of modern men and women for nothing happens in the external world that has not first happened within a soul. How sad that the wars waged externally in the parents were transmitted to their children who, like you, may now carry the pangs of remorse and guilt. The little German girl with blond, braided hair, who was the brunt of the jeers and suffered humiliation, great sadness, and abandonment of her peers, no doubt carries the scars of social exclusion. The Crown of Thorns is a remedy for these scars, but not a suitable discussion topic for this forum. However, I will remember to say a prayer for you and your classmates and the little blond-headed girl during that period of your youth that causes angst in your soul today. I’ve had similar episodes in my life that have caused me great sorrow, remorse, and anguish.

Anonymous said...

It's a shame that the teacher waited until the girl was absent before she scolded the could she watch the cruelty and not intercede in some way long before she did???

Park Burroughs said...

I can't answer for Miss Goldstein, but I'm sure she knew better than to scold the class in the presence of Katrina. That would have just compounded the humiliation.

Anonymous said...

She didn't have to do it in front of the victim...she could have found a way, maybe by talking to the kids individually or in groups. In my grade school, any kids seen behaving like that would have been punished, and fast.