MAREK EDELMAN (
Yiddish : מאַרעק עדעלמאַן, born
either 1919 in
Homel or 1922 in
Warsaw – October 2, 2009 in
Warsaw, Poland ) was a Jewish-Polish political and social activist
and cardiologist . Before his death in 2009, Edelman was the last
surviving leader of the
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising .
World War II
World War II , he was a
General Jewish Labour Bund activist.
During the war he co-founded the
Jewish Combat Organization (ŻOB). He
took part in the 1943
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, becoming its leader
after the death of
Mordechaj Anielewicz . He also took part in the
Warsaw Uprising .
After the war, Edelman remained in Poland and became a noted
cardiologist . From the 1970s, he collaborated with the Workers\'
Defence Committee and other political groups opposing Poland\'s
communist regime . As a member of Solidarity , he took part in the
Polish Round Table Talks of 1989. Following the peaceful
transformations of 1989, he was a member of various centrist and
liberal parties. He also wrote books documenting the history of
wartime resistance against the
Nazi German occupation of Poland .
* 1 Early life
World War II
World War II
* 3 Later life
* 4 Family life
* 5 Death
* 6 See also
* 7 Notes
* 8 Further reading
* 9 External links
Details of Marek Edelman's birth are not known for certain; sources
give two possible years of birth, either 1919 in
Belarus ), or in 1922 in
Warsaw . His father, Natan Feliks Edelman
(died 1924), was a member of the
Socialist Revolutionary Party (his
father's brothers, also
Socialist Revolutionaries, were executed by
the Bolsheviks ). His mother, Cecylia Edelman (died 1934), a hospital
secretary, was an activist member of the
General Jewish Labour Bund ,
a Jewish socialist workers\' party . After Edelman's mother Cecylia
died when he was 14 years old, he was looked after by other staff
members at the hospital where she had worked in Warsaw, the city he
always called home. He said in 2001: "
Warsaw is my city. It is here
that I learned Polish,
Yiddish and German. It is here that at school,
I learned one must always take care of others. It is also here that I
was slapped in the face just because I was a Jew."
As a child, Edelman was a member of Sotsyalistishe Kinder Farband
(SKIF), the Jewish Labour Bund 's youth group for children.
In 1939 he joined and became a leader in
Tsukunft (Future), the
Bund's youth organization for older children. During the war, he
restarted these organizations inside the
The defiance and organization of the Bund made their mark on Edelman.
As conditions for
Jews worsened in the 1930s, Bund members preferred
to challenge the mounting antisemitism rather than flee. Edelman later
said: "The Bundists did not wait for the Messiah , nor did they plan
to leave for Palestine . They believed that Poland was their country,
and they fought for a just, socialist Poland in which each nationality
would have its own cultural autonomy, and in which minorities' rights
would be guaranteed."
WORLD WAR II
Mural in memory of
Marek Edelman at 9b Nowolipki Street in
"The most important is life, and when there is life, the most
important is freedom. And then we give our life for freedom..."
In 1939, after the
German invasion of Poland Edelman found himself
confined—along with the other
Jews of Warsaw—to the
. In 1942, as a Bund youth leader he co-founded the underground Jewish
Combat Organization (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa, ŻOB). In the
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April–May 1943, led by Mordechaj
Anielewicz , Edelman was one of the three sub-commanders and then
became the leader after the death of Anielewicz.
When the Germans had stopped their campaign of transporting Ghetto
Treblinka extermination camp in September 1942, only
60,000 had remained. Edelman and his comrades, however, had had
little doubt that the Germans would resume the job. The Jewish Combat
Organisation had begun acquiring weapons and organizing into units
that would make up for lack of training and munitions with an intimate
knowledge of the Ghetto, both above ground and in its sewer network.
The Germans resumed their attack on the Ghetto on April 19, 1943 with
over 2,000 troops. According to Edelman: "The Germans weren't
expecting resistance of any kind, let alone that we would take up
arms." The outnumbered and outgunned Ghetto fighters' strong
resistance forced the German troops to withdraw. It was on the second
day of the Uprising, while protecting the retreat of Edelman and other
comrades, that another prominent insurgent and
Bundist , Michał
Klepfisz , was killed. Over the next three weeks, the fighting was
intense. The Jewish fighters killed and wounded scores of Nazis but
inevitably sustained far greater losses. On May 8, ŻOB's commander,
Mordechaj Anielewicz , was surrounded by German forces. He committed
suicide, which meant that now Edelman was in charge. "After three
weeks," he recalled, "most of us were dead."
The Germans proceeded to flush out the few remaining fighters by
burning down the Ghetto - Edelman always insisted, "We were beaten by
the flames, not the Germans." At that juncture, couriers from the
Polish underground outside the Ghetto came through the sewers that
still linked it with the rest of Warsaw. On the morning of May 10,
Edelman and his few remaining comrades escaped through the sewers and
made their way to the non-Ghetto part of
Warsaw to find safety among
their Polish compatriots. At this point the Uprising was over and the
fate of those fighters who had remained behind is unknown.
After World War II, the Ghetto Uprising was sometimes given as an
unusual instance of active Jewish resistance in the face of the horror
perpetrated by the Germans. However, Marek never saw a difference in
the character of those who fought in the Uprising and those who were
sent to the death camps, as, in his view, all involved were simply
dealing with an inevitable death as best as they knew how. "We knew
perfectly well that we had no chance of winning. We fought simply not
to allow the Germans alone to pick the time and place of our deaths.
We knew we were going to die. Just like all the others who were sent
to Treblinka .... Their death was far more heroic. We didn't know when
we would take a bullet. They had to deal with certain death, stripped
naked in a gas chamber or standing at the edge of a mass grave waiting
for a bullet in the back of the head.... It was easier to die fighting
than in a gas chamber ."
In mid-1944, Edelman, as a member of the leftist Armia Ludowa
(People's Army), participated in the citywide
Warsaw Uprising , when
Polish forces rose up against the Germans before being forced to
surrender after 63 days of fighting. After the capitulation, Edelman
together with a group of other ŻOB fighters, hid out in the ruins of
the city as one of the Robinson Crusoes of
Warsaw before being rescued
and evacuated with the help from the centrist
Armia Krajowa (Home
Marek Edelman in 2009
Edelman's hospital upbringing had proven invaluable in the Warsaw
Ghetto. After World War II, he studied at
Łódź Medical School and
became a noted cardiologist who invented an original life-saving
operation. In 1948 Edelman actively opposed the incorporation of the
Bund into the Polish United Workers\' Party (Poland's communist
party), which led to the communists disbanding the organization. In
1976, he became an activist with the Workers\' Defence Committee
(Komitet Obrony Robotników) and later with the Solidarity movement.
Edelman publicly denounced racism and promoted human rights .
Specialized District Hospital named after
Nikolay Pirogov in Łódź
Marek Edelman worked as cardiologist for over 30 years
In 1981, when General
Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law ,
Edelman was interned by the government. In 1983, he refused to take
part in the official celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising sponsored by Poland's communist government,
believing that this "would be an act of cynicism and contempt" in a
country "where social life is dominated throughout by humiliation and
coercion." Instead, he walked with friends to the street where
Mordechai Anielewicz's bunker had been located. Edelman took part in
the Round Table Talks as Solidarity's consultant on health policy.
In post-communist Poland, Edelman was a member of several centrist
liberal parties: the Citizens\' Movement for Democratic Action ,
Democratic Union , Freedom Union and Democratic Party – demokraci.pl
. He supported the
1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia
1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia as well as the 2003
Iraq war , both of which he saw as instances of American democracy
saving countries from fascism again.
As an appointed Senator of the Republic, he lent public support to
anti-fascist initiatives and to organisations combatting antisemitism
. In 1993, he accompanied a convoy of goods into the city of Sarajevo
while that city was under siege . Edelman strongly condemned
international indifference during the
Bosnian Genocide in the early
1990s, calling it a disgrace for the rest of Europe and "a delayed
victory by Hitler – a victory from the grave."
On April 17, 1998, Edelman was awarded Poland's highest decoration,
the Order of the White Eagle . He received the French Legion of
Edelman was a lifelong anti-Zionist . In a 1985 interview, he said
Zionism was a "lost cause" and he questioned
Israel 's viability. He
remained firmly Polish, refusing to emigrate to Israel.
In his old age, he spoke in defence of the
Palestinian people , as he
felt that the Jewish self-defence for which he had fought was in
danger of crossing the line into oppression. In August 2002, he wrote
an open letter to the Palestinian resistance leaders. Although the
letter criticised the Palestinian suicide attacks , its tone
infuriated the Israeli government and press. According to the late
British writer and activist
Paul Foot , "He wrote in a spirit of
solidarity from a fellow resistance fighter, as a former leader of a
Jewish uprising not dissimilar in desperation to the Palestinian
uprising in the occupied territories ." He addressed his letter "To
all the leaders of Palestinian military, paramilitary and guerilla
organizations — To all the soldiers of Palestinian militant groups".
Moshe Arens , former Israeli Defence Minister and Foreign Minister ,
visited Edelman in
Warsaw in 2005 to discuss the
Uprising. Arens admired Edelman and tried unsuccessfully to gain
official Israeli recognition for him. Following Edelman's death, Arens
Haaretz : "Many of the survivors of the uprising who
Israel could not forgive Edelman for his frequent criticism
of Israel. When on my return from
Warsaw I tried to convince a number
of Israeli universities to award Edelman an honorary doctorate in
recognition of his role in the
Warsaw ghetto uprising, I ran into
stubborn opposition led by Holocaust historians in Israel. He had
received Poland's highest honor, and at the 65th commemoration of the
Warsaw ghetto uprising he was awarded the French Legion of Honor
medal. He died not having received the recognition from
Israel that he
so richly deserved." —
Marek Edelman was married to
Alina Margolis-Edelman (1922–2008).
They had two children, Aleksander and Anna. When his wife and
children emigrated from Poland to France in the wake of antisemitic
actions by the Polish communist authorities in 1968 , Edelman decided
to stay in
Łódź . "Someone had to stay here with all those who
perished here, after all." He published his memoirs, which have been
translated into six languages. Each April he laid flowers in Warsaw
for those he had served with in the
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Edelman's
wife Alina, likewise a
Warsaw Ghetto survivor, died in 2008. They were
survived by their son and daughter.
Edelman's funeral. In the background, Monument to the Ghetto
Edelman died on October 2, 2009. He was buried in
Warsaw with full
military honours on October 9, 2009. His coffin was covered with a
Bund banner inscribed "Bund - Yidisher Sozialistisher Farband," and a
choir sang the Bund anthem, "
Di Shvue ." The Polish President Lech
Kaczyński and the former President
Lech Wałęsa were present at the
funeral, attended by about 2,000 persons.
Władysław Bartoszewski , former Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs
and an Auschwitz survivor, led the tributes to Edelman, saying: "He
reached a good age. He left as a contented man, even if he was always
aware of the tragedy he went through." Bartoszewski denied that the
activist was "irreplaceable," before acknowledging that "there are few
people like Marek Edelman."
Roman Catholic Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek
said: "I respect him most 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." The
former Polish Prime Minister,
Tadeusz Mazowiecki , was also present
and said Edelman had been a model for him.
Former head of
Israel 's parliament and former Israeli ambassador to
Shevah Weiss said: "I'd like to offer my condolences to Marek
Edelman's family, to the Polish nation and to the Jewish nation. He
was a hero to all of us." Ian Kelly, official spokesperson for the
United States , expressed sympathies and affirmed that the United
States "stands with Poland as it mourns the loss of a great man."
* List of Polish Holocaust resisters
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* Marek Edelman, Resisting the Holocaust: Fighting Back in the
Warsaw Ghetto, Ocean Press, 2004; ISBN 1-876175-52-4 , (Excerpt
Hanna Krall , Shielding the Flame, Henry Holt ISBN 0-03-006002-8 .
Reprinted in Hanna Krall, The subtenant; To outwit God, Evanston, IL:
Northwestern University Press, 1992; ISBN 0-8101-1050-4 .
* Katarzyna Zechenter, Marek Edelman, in Holocaust Literature. An
Encyclopedia of Writers and Their Work. Vol. 1, Routledge 2003, pp.
288–90; ISBN 0-415-92983-0 .
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