Marek Edelman Remembered- “Wont You Shed a Tear?”

Marek Edelman

Marek Edelman

“Living proof,” “The Guard,” “Fighter,” “Hero.”

Just a few of the unofficial titles he was called.  I called him my hero.  Never met the man.  But for years he was an inspiration.  As a human being and a native Pole I consider him one of the greatest men of the 20th Century.  Certainly one of the greatest Poles of the last 100 years.  A social activist, a fighter, a doctor, a patriot, and man who wouldn’t take shit from anyone.  That was Marek Edelman.  My hero.

As I write this tears force themselves into my eyes.  Poland through the force of circumstance had some great men in the past 100 years, Karol Wojtyla known better as John Paul II, Jozef Pilsudski, Lech Walesa, Wladyslaw Sikorski.  In my opinion Marek Edelman is right among those distinguished men.  He died in Warsaw on Friday night, surrounded by friends .  At least his death was peaceful.  Because for most of his life Marek fought.  He fought the right wing gangs on the streets of pre-war Warsaw, he fought the Nazis, he fought death in the hospitals as a doctor, he fought the communists.  Marek never shied away from a fight.

Marek Edelman was born in 1922 in Homel (now in Belarus).  He was born into a Jewish socialist family.  When he was only a few years old he lost his father.  In the late 20’s his family moved to Warsaw.  There was a bit of controversy about his place of birth, as Marek Edelman for years kept insisting he was born in Warsaw.  There was a simple reason for that.  He was afraid of being forced to move to the Soviet Union as the Soviets considered anyone born in former territories (that USSR annexed after WWII) as a Soviet citizen.  At 12 young Marek also lost his mother, from then on he supported himself.

The Second World War game, and a brutal German occupation.  Warsaw Jews were forced to by the Germans into the Ghetto, where over a half a million people were crammed in inhumane conditions, dying daily of sickness and starvation.  The the Germans made their decision of what to do with Europe’s Jews.  Systematically the Ghetto was cleared out during 1942, the Jews were sent to death camps and there they were murdered.  At just 20 Marek Edelman was one of the founders of Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa (ZOB, Jewish Fighters Organization).  Those young Jews decided not to die quietly, but to fight and take a few Nazis with them.  They had no chance, numbering just over a thousand against the German military might, they were short of weapons, they were hardly trained.  But they fought.  When the Germans decided to empty out the Warsaw Ghetto, fight they did.  And they fought gallantly, the Germans losses were in the hundreds.  But they were bombed and burned out of their positions, house after house.  After Mordehai Amielewicz and his group of fighter committed suicide when they lost hope, the 21 year old Marek Edelman became the leader of the uprising.  Saved by Polish resistance he hid for over a year (“drinking vodka and making love” as he recalled it) in Warsaw, because with his looks he couldn’t go outside.  Finally on August 1st, 1944 the second Warsaw Rising took place.

Polish fighters, Warsaw 1944

Polish fighters, Warsaw 1944

When the Red Army approached Warsaw the Polish Armia Krajowa decided, as part of its overall nationwide plan, to rise up against the Germans in the capitol.  On August 1st Warsaw rose.  Marek Edelman immediately went out and joined the fight.  And for 2 months he fought heroically among other young kids to free Warsaw from the Nazi yoke.  He survived the Rising, and again hid till the Soviets came.

In 1946 he moved to Lodz, studied and became one of Poland’s leading cardiologists.  He married and had children.  He pioneered many methods in treating patients, and was able to save countless lives.  Unfortunately during 1968 there was an anti-Israeli movement in Communist Poland.  That quickly translated to an antisemitic movement.  Marek Edelman was fired from his job at a military hospital, as was his wife.  He was “encouraged” to leave Poland.  His wife and kids did, moving to France.  But Marek Edelman stayed, because “no one is going to tell me what I am supposed to do and where I should go.”  Pure Marek Edelman, always defiant, never taking shit from anyone, no matter the odds.

With backing from a party official he got another job.  In the 70’s he joined the Polish anti-communist resistance KOR.  Then joined the Solidarity movement.  Was arrested when the Jaruzelski regime introduced Martial Law in Poland in 1981.  He stayed in Solidarity in secret, till finally communism fell.  It was only then that he became properly recognized and respected, he received many honours from Polish and foreign governments.  But Marek Edelman’s fighting did not stop there.  In 1993 he was part of a humanitarian convoy trying to bring aid to Sarajevo.  That’s right, a 71 year old man left his comfy Poland and went to help needy Sarajevo.  He was an outspoken critic of any abusive regimes and fought for human rights all his life.

The smoking doctor

The smoking doctor

Marek Edelman is a rather controversial figure.  A socialist who hated communists.  A Jew who was anti-Zionist.  A Pole who was not always accepted by his country.  Never was one to shy away from controversy, always spoke his mind.  Never asked for pity, and always called things how he saw them.  When asked why he stayed after the war when most were either dead or were leaving he said:  “Someone had to stay with all these dead.”  He never shied away from calling people “idiots’ to their face.  And I loved him for it.  He never tried to make himself to seem more important.  He just was, how he was, who he was.  And in that he was perfect.

He said once when asked what is most important in life.

“Life itself is most important.  And when there is life, freedom is most important.  And then one gives up life for freedom and we don’t know what’s most important.”

That was Marek Edelman, my hero.

For a proper obituary do not be shy to search the internet as he should not be forgotten.

Also Hanna Krall’s books were translated from Polish, through them you will too get to know Marek a bit more.

May he rest in peace.

A great doctor, a great fighter, a great Jew, a great Pole, a great human being.

I will miss you.


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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great post Robert. Thanks – and nice work on the blog. Good stuff!

  2. […] Nick Lowles, History is Made at Night, Tim Collard, MJ Rosenberg, the Tomb, Charlie Pottins, ZWord, Rislu, Third Estate, Anne Frank’s Drumkit, Socialist Unity, the JC, Telegraph, Yossie Melman, […]

  3. Hey, I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog!…..I”ll be checking in on a regularly now….Keep up the good work! 🙂

    – Marc Shaw

  4. Thank you marc

  5. I join the concert of applause !
    Read about your project about reflexions on Polish history on Uzar… as not yet able to read in Polish, I’m supportive of a bilingual version… and maybe am not the only one !

  6. Hi,

    thanks for the great quality of your blog, every time i come here, i’m amazed.

    black hattitude.

  7. Love the blog! You should now have my email address. 🙂

  8. Hey there everyone i was just introduceing myself here im a first time visitor who hopes to become a daily reader!

  9. Hi, I’m a Pole and I’m impressed. You know so much about Poland and Marek Edelman. Everything what you wrote is right. I noticed only one mistake,
    the first boss of ZOB was Mordechaj Anielewicz.
    Take care!

  10. Hey Matthew, thanks. Yes, I realize that Anielewicz was the leader of ZOB, sorry I was not more clearer on that, but I wrote this right after learning that Marek died, so I was rather emotional.

  11. No problem, it was mistake only in few letters 🙂

  12. Hi Rlisu,
    I thank you for the good contain of your website and the interresting informations. I will come back.
    poivre de Kampot

  13. Dr. Marek Edelman was to some extend a role model for me. He was a close friend to my family, especially to my aunt Barbara. They were both doctors in Lodz.

    Dr. Marek Edelman had a rare treat to always know and say what was morally wright, not politically correct.

    I wish there were more people like Him around.

  14. bible angels,

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