Edelman, Marek

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Nationality: Polish. Born: Homel, Belarus, 1922. Family: Married Alina Margolis; one daughter and one son. Career: Cardiologist, Pirogów Hospital, Lodz. Activist, Jewish Labor Bund; cofounder, Jewish Fighting Organization, 1942; co-leader, Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 1943; activist, Komitet Obrony Robotników (Workers Defense Committee), 1976-80; member, trade union Solidarity, 1980-89. Awards: White Eagle Order, 1998; honorary citizen of Lodz, 2000. Honorary doctorates: Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut; Université Libre, Brussels, Belgium.



Getto walczy: Udzial Bundu w obronie getta warszawskiego. 1945; as The Ghetto Fights, 1946.


Critical Studies:

Shielding the Flame: An Intimate Conversation with Dr. Marek Edelman, the Last Surviving Leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by Hanna Krall, 1986; "The Curious Case of Marek Edelman," in Commentary, 83, March 1987, pp. 66-69, and "Poles, Jews, and History," in What Is the Use of Jewish History, 1992, both by Lucy S. Dawidowicz.

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Marek Edelman, a heart surgeon and the last living leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, was born in 1922. During the war he was an activist of the bund and one of the organizers of the Jewish Fighting Organization. After the death of Mordechaj Anielewicz Edelman became the commander of the ghetto uprising. After the fall of the uprising, together with a few fighters he managed to get through canals to the "Aryan side," where he hid with the help of the members of the underground Polish Socialist Party. In 1944 he also fought in the Warsaw Uprising. After the war he moved to Lodz. He became involved in the fight for the human rights that were abandoned in socialist Poland. From 1976 to 1980 he was a member of Komitet Obrony Robotników (Workers Defense Committee) and then of the independent trade union Solidarity. In 1989 he participated in the negotiations of the opposition with the government, the Round Table talks, preceding the structural changes in Poland. In 1998 he was honored with the White Eagle Order, the highest Polish order.

Edelman is not a writer. Notwithstanding, in 1946 he decided to play the role of a witness and a memory keeper and started writing a book devoted to the martyrdom and the uprising of the Warsaw Jews entitled The Ghetto Fights. Edelman's war experience and the reflections on it also became the theme of Shielding the Flame, a book written by Hanna Krall based on interviews. In both these narratives as well as in Edelman's interviews he emphasizes that "one should always be on the side of the hurt and the weak, one should engage oneself in difficult and dangerous matters." The author warns against giving in to fanaticism and ideologies that activate the evil side of man and make him stop treating homicide as a terrible thing. In his memoirs and relations Edelman does not aspire to being called a hero. That title is reserved for his dead companions.

Edelman wrote about the need to be constantly engaged in the fate of the world in his letter to the leaders of NATO in which he called the war in Kosovo the first war declared in the defense of man. Bill Clinton cited these words in his speech for the 50th anniversary of NATO.

—Joanna Hobot

See the essay on The Ghetto Fights.