Mały Przegląd: A Little Review with a Big Impact
small, Mały Przegląd: A Little Review with a Big Impact, Winieta jubileuszowego numeru "Małego Przeglądu" z 1 stycznia 1937 roku
While a newspaper written and edited by children for children (with a little help from grown-ups) may seem like a utopian idea, thanks to Janusz Korczak such a publication was made possible in the tumultuous era of the early 20th century. For 13 years Mały Przegląd was distributed every week with a run of 50,000 copies, giving many children a voice in a world of adult strife and political unease.
Mały Przegląd (The Little Review) was a Friday supplement to Nasz Przegląd, the largest Polish-language Jewish daily newspaper published in Warsaw before World War II. The first issue of the weekly came out on 9th October, 1926. A week prior to its release, Janusz Korczak, the originator of the whole idea and its first editor-in-chief, introduced the concept:
There are many adults who write only because they feel no shame, and there are children who have many great ideas, remarks, and observations, but don't write, because they lack courage or just don’t feel like it. Our newspaper will encourage them to write. Encourage and embolden them.
Korczak was convinced that children should write for children without the mediation of adults, an attitude that was revolutionary at the time and still to a great extent unparalleled. Furthermore, he saw writing as a mode of engagement in the world, and The Little Review was to play a crucial role in helping children speak for themselves. Through writing, children learned to address their problems and express their feelings.
world war ii
kaytek the wizard
The children could either send their letters by mail, telephone, or simply come to the The Little Review editorial office and personally say what was on their minds. The room and the adjacent corridor in 7 Nowolipki Street in Warsaw were always crowded and full of the bustle typical of a newspaper editorial office. Here, helped by Korczak and deputy editor Jerachmiel Wajngarten, a group of young editors such as Chaskiel Bajn, Madzia Markuze, Edwin Markuze, and Emanuel Sztokman did all the work necessary for the newspaper to appear in print. The general idea was that every issue of the weekly was to be composed of letters sent by readers to the review’s office, or excerpts, sometimes arranged in elaborate ways. This premise remained over the years unchanged: The Little Review featured authentic material produced by young readers, correspondents, and reporters.
Korczak encouraged children to write about their everyday problems and worries, address them and eventually overcome shame and isolation. ‘Sometimes one doesn't want to tell everything your friends and family, and yet one needs to complain about something or talk about one’s life, thoughts and needs’. He saw to it that the children wrote using their own words – their natural language, untainted by the linguistic rules endorsed by adults. Korczak was also adamant about the genres used in the paper: no poems, no novels – no writing marred by the pedagogical interference of adults. The stuff of the Little Review was to be personal. Effectively, The Little Review could be called an early instance of authentic non-fiction literature by children.
This was the case with the reportage published in the first year of the weekly run. An article about a barbed wire set up around the playground in Ogród Krasińskich spawned a series of follow-up articles, and several months later the fence was effectively torn down. In another letter sent by a certain Natuś, the boy complained about having to wear an apron to school. Supposedly, in consequence of an intervention on the part of a Little Review reporter, the boy’s mother stopped making him wear it.
In retrospect, The Little Review may seem reminiscent of a sort of community platform avant la lettre, connnecting children from different backgrounds yet who all shared the same problems. One can’t stop but wonder about the amazing interactive character of the flow of communication between the editorial staff and its readers. The paper constantly addressed its readers, asking them about their feelings and relying on their feedback. This may also be reminiscent of contemporary 2.0 culture, as known from the Internet, in which the traditional roles of active and passive engagement (author and consumer) intermingle. The Little Review endorsed communication tactics in which readers also became writers and vice versa.
Jozef Hen on Korczak's Little Review from Culture.pl on Vimeo.
Looking for further parallels and analogies, one can compare The Little Review to an internet forum on which children could openly speak their minds and connect with each other. Especially in the earlier period of the paper’s existence, children could always count on Korczak to answer their letters personally: share his thoughts, give advice, or criticise. If the analogy linking The Little Review with today’s online forums is to work, one has to make one important provision, namely that this platform was a completely safe environment moderated by Janusz Korczak, an exceptional figure who was very sensitive to the needs of all children.
In the 1930s, after Igor Newerly took over the editorial role, The Little Review took on a more political profile. With its readers getting older and the political situation in Europe getting tenser, the weekly drifted towards more socialist stance, relating to the spectres of surging fascism and anti-Semitism, as well as the growing menace of the impending world war. Throughout the '30s the anti-war strain manifested most clearly in May, when the paper celebrated the international Day of Good Will, publishing letters from children from all over the world calling for peace and solidarity among people. At that time Mały Przegląd also became involved in promoting Esperanto, the artificial language devised by Polish-Jewish scientist Ludwik Zamenhof, as the new language of communication and mutual understanding for all mankind. Those two aspirations were shattered by World War II.
In spite of the fact that the paper was focused mainly on Jewish children, it appears also to have been a place of dialogue between Polish children in general. The letters of Polish Catholic children helped to articulate difficult issues and overcome harmful stereotypes, bridging the gap between the two cultures.
The Little Review was also a complex administrative project engaging elaborate marketing techniques. Korczak understood the importance of creating a community of readers and correspondents around the paper. He developed ways of gaining the loyalty of these readers. One of those attachment-building techniques was a motivational system for all who started writing for The Little Review. It started with the first letter sent to the weekly: the names of the authors of those letters were printed in the paper – it was indeed a rare opportunity to see one’s name printed in a newspaper. Those who kept writing were given pen names. The motivational system included some more straightforward incentives like trips to a ham and sausage shop in winter and to ice cream parlours in summer. The authors of the most interesting letters received books, chess sets, and special postcards which often served also as tickets to the cinema.
The last issue of The Little Review came out on 1st September, 1939. Most of the young correspondents and editors of The Little Review perished in the Holocaust: renowned reporters like Harry Kaliszer, Kuba Hersztajn, and Lejzor from Gęsia (Lejzor Czarnobroda), along with thousands of anonymous correspondents known to us only by their pen-names.