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Last military commander of the Warsaw ghetto uprising dead

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  • Last military commander of the Warsaw ghetto uprising dead

    Technically this should go into one of the history sections, but I thought it might get a wider audience here.

    This guy was just remarkable. Both Warsaw uprisings, stuck it out in postwar Poland & was a 'Solidarity' activist & a cardiologist. Truly remarkable man & a devoted humanist to the end. I loved this quote:

    Someone who had known so much death, he used to say, bore all the more responsibility for life.

    Marek Edelman
    Oct 8th 2009

    From The Economist print edition

    Marek Edelman, the last military commander of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, died on October 2nd, aged 90

    HE WAS sure that once he started fighting, he was going to die. No point in being scared about it. Death was death; there was nothing more, nothing bigger, that could happen to him. At least in this way, taking up arms, he could die on his own terms rather than theirs. His time, his place. Suicide would have been another way to do it, but he never considered that. Going to the gas chamber or the mass grave with quiet, considered dignity, like many of the residents of the Warsaw ghetto, was another way: far more admirable and more difficult, he thought, than running through random bullets as he did. But it was not for him. Only by dying as publicly as possible, loudly and with his gun blazing, could he let the world know what the Nazis were doing to the Jews in Poland.

    The odds were overwhelming. He was deputy commander of 220 untrained “boys” with pistols and home-made explosives. Against them were around 2,000 Nazi soldiers, the pick of the Wehrmacht, with plenty more behind them. The Nazis had come on the eve of Passover, April 19th 1943, to liquidate the Warsaw ghetto, from which they had been deporting 6,000 Jews a week to the death camps. For almost a month Mr Edelman helped keep them at bay, barricaded in the streets around the brushmakers’ district until the whole place was burned down round him.

    The ghetto had been established in October 1940 to cut off the city’s Jews, with a high wall and wire, from the general population. Jews were crammed into its four square kilometres from all over the city, Poland and the German Reich. By April 1942 half a million people lived there, many on filthy straw mattresses directly on the ground. Around 1,500 were dying each week from hunger and disease. In those conditions, Mr Edelman said, the most important thing was just to be alive: not to be one of the naked corpses wheeled past on carts, heads bobbing up and down or knocking on the pavement. A “terrible apathy” took hold, in which people no longer saw or believed the random horrors round them. He tried to rouse them, first by staying up night after night to print mimeograph newspapers, and then by fighting.

    Through the sewers
    As a messenger at the ghetto hospital, Mr Edelman was one of the few allowed out. He passed on news of Nazi atrocities to the larger Polish underground, and gathered up weapons and fighters. Precisely how much help he got is still disputed. He implied later that gentile Poles both couldn’t do much, and wouldn’t, to help the Jews they still distrusted, even though they faced a common enemy. But the beleaguered Jews were disunited too: secular, socialist, non-Zionist Jews like him, with ardent Zionists and communists, all bickering over tactics at the edge of the abyss.

    He considered himself both a Pole and a Jew, despite his white armband with its blue star. Warsaw was home to him; his parents had died when he was young, leaving him to be brought up by staff in the hospital. He spoke Polish, Yiddish and Russian. His dream was not of some Zionist homeland, but a socialist Poland in which Jews would have cultural autonomy. He continued to hope for that all his life.

    During the final throes of the ghetto uprising 50,000-60,000 Jews were deported to the camps. Mr Edelman survived, escaping with a handful of colleagues along tunnels barely two feet high, slimy water up to his lips, to safety. Some 16 months later, in August 1944, he took part in the larger Warsaw uprising, which was crushed after 63 days. It led to the razing of the city by the Nazis in a last act of revenge.

    After the war, Mr Edelman was one of the few Jewish Holocaust survivors who stayed in Poland. He moved to Lodz, where he graduated in medicine. Subsequent waves of anti-Semitism did not dislodge him: not even one in 1968 when up to 20,000 Jews left, including his wife and daughter. When he lost his job, he merely moved to another hospital. Nothing else terrible happened to him, as he put it. In 1981, having become an activist for the Solidarity movement, he was briefly interned under martial law. He had known worse.

    Mr Edelman could be brusque and difficult with colleagues. But it was his quiet thoughtfulness that most irritated people. He refused to express open hatred for the Nazis, and for years would not talk about the ghetto uprising. As Bronislaw Geremek, another ghetto survivor, said once, he was “a hero who didn’t like heroism”. Only in old age did he start to speak out, not least to try to influence the present. In 1999 he publicly supported NATO strikes in the Balkans, arguing that a policy of pacifist non-intervention only played into the hands of dictators.

    His expertise was in cardiology (uninhibited by his chain-smoking), and the heart and its emotions seemed to intrigue him more as the years passed. His last book, published this year, made a point of describing the love affairs of the Warsaw ghetto: the “marvellous things” that happened, and the ecstatic moments of happiness, when terrified and lonely people were thrown together. Man was naturally a beast, but love could overwhelm him, and love could also be taught. As for his general devotion to medicine, that was easily explained. Someone who had known so much death, he used to say, bore all the more responsibility for life.

    : Marek Edelman | The Economist

    Win nervously lose tragically - Reds C C

  • #2
    Edelman...a very fitting name (Nobel/Fine Man)


    • #3
      There can't be too many of his ilk left...not only is the chapter closing, but the book.


      • #4
        Thanks for posting this BigF.
        A fine and honourable man, R.I.P. Dr. Edelman.
        When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep? - George Canning sigpic


        • #5
          The kind of courage he showed is an example to anyone and everyone of what human response to atrocity should be, what an amazing person.

          Ar deis de go raimh a n-ainm (RIP).
          Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative.
          - John Stuart Mill.