Marek Edelman z”l

A TRUE MENSCH

“To be a Jew means always being with the oppressed and never the oppressors”.

The author of these words was the Bundist Marek Edelman who has just died aged 90. He was one of the commanders of the ZOB – the Jewish Fighting Organisation that led the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943.

To anti-fascists and human rights activists around the world he was a hero – plain and simple. He wrote one of the earliest Holocaust memoirs, The Ghetto Fights, which was published in Poland in 1945 and subsequently translated into several languages. It is an incredible text which pains and inspires the reader in equal measure.

After escaping the burnt-out ghetto through the sewers he continued underground anti-Nazi activity and then joined other Poles in the Warsaw Rising of 1944. After the war he saved countless more lives working as a cardiologist. In recent years he used the medical arena to make contact with Dr Mustafa Barghouti, director of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees.

Edelman was never a Zionist, and he opposed Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territory. He met with Palestinian political figures and expressed support for their struggle against occupation while at the same time urging them to firmly reject terroristic methods. He angered Israeli leaders by pointedly addressing the Palestinians he made contact with as “leaders of the Palestinian Fighting Organisations”. In Tel Aviv they were indignant that such a prominent figure in the Warsaw Ghetto resistance would choose to continue to live in Poland (his homeland!) after the war – a place they regarded simply as a Jewish graveyard. Even worse, he had the chutzpah not to take his political lead from less heroic and far more reactionary Zionist spokespersons and cheerleaders.

Not that Edelman was worried. This hero of the Jewish people and of anti-fascists had long been treated as persona non grata by the  Israeli political establishment and its mainstream media. Edelman would not countenance Israel’s attempt to appropriate Holocaust resistance to justify its political actions, and he said so on several occasions.

He refused to allow the historical experience of the Ghetto fighters to be claimed by any group/nation exclusively. On the contrary, he argued that this history belonged to everyone and carried a universal imperative to fight for equality, democracy, human rights and dignity wherever these were threatened or suppressed

He continued to repudiate the Zionist narrative of Jewish history with its blinkered ultra-nationalism. Instead he remained loyal to the Bund’s socialist political tradition which, as its 1938 manifesto had declared, rejected “one’s own and foreign nationalism”.

Throughout his life Edelman worked for human rights, democracy and egalitarianism. He remained sceptical of nationalism in general and critical of state power. He was a brave and forthright opponent of the Stalinist regime in Poland and, in the 1980s, actively supported the Workers Opposition Movement – KOR.

In 1988 – on the 45th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising – he snubbed the official commemoration in Poland attended by Stalinist dignitaries from Poland and Zionist dignitaries from Israel, in favour of an alternative ceremony at the Warsaw Jewish cemetery, attended by 3,000 people, where he unveiled a monument to Henryk Erlich and Victor Alter – Bundist leaders of the 1930s who had been captured and murdered on Stalin’s orders during the War.

I treasure the fact that I had the good fortune to hear Marek Edelman speak and briefly meet him in 1997 at a conference in Warsaw marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Bund. Naturally a lot of people wanted to speak to him. He sat, relaxed, making time for everybody. He was a hero, a fighter and a true mensch. Koved zayn ondenk (honour his memory)

David Rosenberg

Zog Nit Keynmol, the partisans song, sung by the great Paul Robeson

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8 thoughts on “Marek Edelman z”l”

  1. Thanks for the orbituary, I found that really inspiring.

    I think we should all learn ‘Zog Nit Keynmol’ by Hirsch Glick (1922-1944). It’s one of my favourite songs of the radical left, a beautiful and powerful anthem.

    Just for the sake of pedancy it should be noted that Glick was actually active in the Vilna Ghetto partisans and that in Vilna they regard this as their song, the song of the Vilna Partisans. Further than that they see it as a song for partisans in general. (especially Jewish partisans) Yes, Glick wrote this song out of inspiration of the actions of his comrades Warsaw, but then the entire Vilna partisan movement took much of its inspiration from the same source.

    Anyway, this Summer I had the honour of singing this song alongside a surviving Vilna partisan in the center of her old forest base. Singing songs together seemed to be one of the few forms of recreation for these heroic people.

    Here is wikipedia’s english translation:

    Never say this is the final road for you,
    Though leadened skies may cover over days of blue.
    As the hour that we longed for is so near.
    Our step beats out the message — we are here!

    From lands so green with palms to lands all white with snow.
    We shall be coming with our anguish and our woe,
    And where a spurt of our blood fell on the earth,
    There are courage and our spirit have rebirth.

    The early morning sun will brighten our day,
    And yesterday with our foe will fade away.
    But if the sun delays and in the east remains–
    This song as password generations must remain.

    This song was written with our blood and not with lead,
    It’s not a little tune that birds sing overhead,
    This song a people sang amid collapsing walls,
    With pistols in hand they heeded to the call.

    Therefore never say the road now ends for you,
    Though leadened skies may cover over days of blue.
    As the hour that we longed for is so near,
    Our step beats out the message — we are here!

  2. Ach, and the Yiddish transliteration, for anyone who wants to sing along:
    (note that Paul Robeson in this Youtube version cuts out the repeat of the first verse at the end)

    zog nit keyn mol, az du geyst dem letstn veg,
    khotsh himlen blayene farshteln bloye teg, –
    kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho,
    s’vet a poyk ton undzer trot – mir zaynen do!
    kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho,
    s’vet a poyk ton undzer trot – mir zaynen do!

    fun grinem palmenland biz vaysn land fun shney,
    mir kumen on mit undzer payn, mit undzer vey;
    un vu gefaln iz a shprits fun undzer blut,
    shprotsn vet dort undzer gvure, undzer mut!
    un vu gefaln iz a shprits fun undzer blut,
    shprotsn vet dort undzer gvure, undzer mut!

    s’vet di morgnzun bagildn undz dem haynt,
    un der nekht vet farshvindn mit dem faynt,
    nor oyb farzamen vet di zun in der kayor,
    vi a parol zol geyn dos lid fun dor tsu dor!
    nor oyb farzamen vet di zun in der kayor,
    vi a parol zol geyn dos lid fun dor tsu dor!

    dos lid geshribn iz mit blut, un nit mit blay,
    s’iz nit keyn lidl fun a foygl oyf der fray, –
    dos hot a folk tsvishn falndike vent
    dos lid gezungen mit naganes in di hent!…
    dos hot a folk tsvishn falndike vent
    dos lid gezungen mit naganes in di hent!…

    to zog nit keyn mol, az du geyst dem letstn veg,
    khotsh himlen blayene farshteln bloye teg;
    kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho –
    es vet a poyk ton undzer trot: mir zaynen do!
    kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho –
    es vet a poyk ton undzer trot: mir zaynen do!

  3. hi Baruch, I had a read of yer post and a watch of the vid, but something seemed a bit odd on the video at 39secs, take a look. On the newspaper bit, the stories seemed a bit strange so I checked it out. I popped down the library, it’s massive – anyway after ordering the microfish(sp?) for New York Times 10.05.1943 I had a scan, guess what? The front page is totally different! Looks like someones slipped a bit of misinfo in there. After a scan round its mentioned at this web site as well:-
    http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/bl_1943_nytimes.htm What do you reckon?
    p.s I suppose cos Marek was against the zionists, someone’s thought it was ok, but the message is confusing as it ‘big ups’ the
    the nazis!?! I don’t know, maybe you could shed some light. cheers

  4. good research Robert! Thanks for alerting us to this, totally hadn’t noticed. The video is put together by some person on youtube, to accompany the song, and I guess they thought the front page was genuine! As the link you gave pointed out, the fake front page is satirical,, rather than pro nazi.

    Its nothing to do with Marek-he definately was an anti-nazi!

    I think I’ll leave the video in place, now that this comment thread makes the point.

    Thanks for your detective work!

  5. wow, great work robert. I will respond to your post on the intermarriage article when i get a minute….

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  7. hi Baruch, found this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XCyr0Jtlvc&feature=quicklist on the Jewish Brigade. Greenfield122 wrote this comment which shows respect and understanding of the man.
    ”It is fitting to remember the great Marek Edelman who died this week. He was one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto resistance. The word hero does not do him justice. He was a giant amongst men. We must always remember his life of resistance against oppression, especially when we compare this great man with the gutless terrorist leaders of the rogue state of Israel.
    Edelman intervened in Israel’s show trial of the Palestinian resistance leader, Marwan Barghouti….. Edelman always resented Israel’s claim on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising as a symbol of Jewish liberation. Now he said this belonged to the Palestinians.
    He wrote a letter of solidarity to the Palestinian resistance, “commanders of the Palestinian military, paramilitary and partisan operations to all the soldiers of the Palestinian fighting organisations”. The old Jewish anti-Nazi Ghetto fighter had placed his immense moral authority at the disposable of the only side he deemed worthy of it.”

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