OBITUARY: by Joseph PoprzecznyNews Weekly
Last surviving leader of 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising dies: Marek Edelman (1919-2009)
, October 31, 2009
One of the great heroes of World War II, Marek Edelman, died on October 2, 2009. He was the last surviving leader of Warsaw's ill-fated 1943 Jewish ghetto uprising.
|Marek Edelman (1919-2009).|
That struggle against unbeatable odds was sparked by the realisation that those still inside the ghetto were being removed by the Nazis to be gassed at the Treblinka death-camp north-east of Warsaw.
Despite their eventual defeat, Edelman and a handful of combatants managed to survive and escape.
Edelman was also a combatant in the 63-day long Warsaw Uprising of August/September 1944. Four months before the Soviet Red Army occupied Warsaw in January 1945, the entire city rose against the Nazis expecting Soviet forces, then on the capital's eastern outskirts, to attack the Nazis as Red Army radio claimed would happen; but the promised Soviet help didn't eventuate.
However, each year in April, the Jewish ghetto uprising's anniversary, Edelman laid flowers to commemorate its heroes at Warsaw's monument.
"Remember them all - boys and girls - 220 altogether, not too many to remember their faces, their names," Edelman said in a 2008 interview.
After the war, he became a cardiologist and worked in a hospital in Lodz until beyond his 85th birthday.
He died at the family home of his friend, Paula Sawicka, where he'd lived for the past two years. "He died at home, among friends, among his close people," Sawicka said.
Edelman was born on January 1, 1919, in Homel, then in eastern Poland but now in Belarus. His family moved to Warsaw when he was a child.
In September 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland, Edelman was a member of the Jewish Socialist Bund, which became a major centre of resistance-planning.
The Warsaw Ghetto was sealed in November 1940, thereby becoming a hellish home for over 400,000 Jews. By late 1941, nearly half had perished from malnutrition and disease.
The Bund's resistance plans were launched on April 19, 1943, when moves were made to liquidate the ghetto by removing its remaining 60,000 inhabitants who had not yet died or been deported. Edelman, then 23-years old, led a unit formed in a brush-making factory.
"No one believed they would be saved," Edelman said in 2008. "We knew the struggle was doomed, but it showed the world there was resistance against the Nazis, that you could fight the Nazis. Every moment was difficult. It was two or three or 10 boys fighting [against] an army. There were no easy moments."
On May 8, the uprising's leaders committed suicide in a bunker. Because Edelman was not with them, he and several other leaders escaped through the sewers and hid in Warsaw outside the doomed ghetto.
Edelman joined Poland's post-war democratic opposition, including the legendary Solidarnosc
(Solidarity) movement, which in 1989 ousted the communists.
Professor Marek Chodakiewicz of the Washington-based Institute for World Politics, whose family knew Edelman, said: "I appreciated his anti-Communism. Six of his uncles (his mother's brothers) were shot by the Bolsheviks in 1919.
"They were Bundists, Jewish socialists. Even though Edelman remained a convinced Bundist until the end of his life, he never compromised with the Communists when they were in power. I read a late 1940s secret police report complaining about Edelman publicly shouting 'Communist lackeys' at those who collaborated with the regime.
"Later, in the 1970s, he was involved in the same human rights dissident group as my father, the Committee to Defend Workers (Komitet Obrony Robotników - KOR
), and was arrested like my father after martial law was imposed to crush Solidarnosc
in December 1981."
Being a wartime Bundist was a precarious ordeal because the Nazis despised you for being Jewish and the Soviets loathed you for being anti-communist.
Poland's two senior pre-war Bundist leaders, Henryk Erlich and Victor Alter, were arrested by the Soviet NKVD in 1939. In 1942, they were charged and executed on the preposterous grounds of being German agents!
In 1988, Edelman helped arrange the erection of a monument at Warsaw's Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery in Erlich's and Alter's memory.
Edelman himself was awarded the French Legion of Honour and Poland's highest civilian distinction, the Order of the White Eagle.
Former Israeli ambassador to Poland, Shevach Weiss, said: "He will remain in my memory as a fighting hero, a man of great courage. He never ceased in his struggle for human freedom and for Poland's freedom."
Polish Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, said: "I respect him mostly for the fact that he stayed in this land, which made him fight so hard for his Jewish and Polish identity. He became a real witness; he gave a real testimony with his life."
Edelman is survived by his son Aleksander, his daughter Anna and grandchildren Liza and Tomek.Joseph Poprzeczny is a Perth-based historian and writer.