Sunday, October 4, 2009

Marek Edelman, RIP

Marek Edelman, one of the top commanders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943, has passed away at the age of 90. Edelman was a member of the Bund movement, a far left movement of Yiddish-speaking Jews in Poland and Russia that was founded in the same year as Zionism (1897) and competed with it ferociously, but was effectively destroyed in the Shoah (it limped on for a while in places like Melbourne Australia, but merely as a shadow of its former self). Part of the story of the Underground in Warsaw was how rival movements came together to face the Nazi foe; Edelman's position in the Underground, which was mostly led by Zionists, was part of this. After the war he remained in Poland, and even after the wave of official antisemitism in 1968, when most of the last few thousands of Jews left Poland, he stayed on.

In 1976, when he was a prominent cardiologist in Lodz, he gave a long interview to a local journalist, Hanna Krall. The English translation is titled Shielding the Flame: An Intimate Conversation With Dr. Marek Edelman, the Last Surviving Leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It's a fascinating read. As you might expect from a hard-bitten Bundist, he had no patience for the Zionist mythologizing of the uprising which had been so important in the 1950s and 1960s. He then went on to live long enough to see most Israeli thought on the subject come closer to his perspective, even while never embracing any of the Bundist elements.

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