Marek Edelman, a distinguished cardiologist who was the last surviving commander of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising against the Germans, died Friday in Warsaw. He was
Dr. Edelman was one of a handful of young leaders who in April 1943 led a force of 220 poorly armed young Jewish men and women in a desperate and hopeless struggle against the Germans who had murdered over 350,000 Jews before the uprising began.
In his memoir he describes the initial disbelief of Jews in their fate. Nearly 400,000 Jewish men, women and children had been sealed into the Ghetto in 1940—the prelude to the final solution, which murdered almost all of Poland’s three million Jews, half of the final total. Paralysis and fear was the dominant mood:
“To overcome our own terrifying apathy, to fight against our own acceptance of the generally prevailing feeling of panic, even small tasks required truly gigantic efforts on our part.”
The Nazis succeeded in “deporting” two thirds of the Ghetto population to the death camps before the Jewish Fighting Organisation, (in Polish, Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, ZOB), was finally formed from three political parties, Edelman’s Jewish Socialist anti-Zionist Bund, the Socialist Zionists and the Communists.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out on April 19, 1943, on the first night of Passover. Edelman helped lead the Jewish resistance when the Nazis began to close in on the fighters. At first, Edelman and his soldiers were in charge of defending the "Brushmakers" ghetto district.
After the ZOB forces began to withdraw, Edelman and his men joined the fighters centered at 30 Franciszkanska Street. The Nazis progressively destroyed the Warsaw Ghetto and cut the Jewish fighters off from one another. Edelman was among one of the last groups to hold out in the ZOB's headquarters at 18 Mila Street. On May 10 he was able to cross over to the non-Jewish side of Warsaw by way of the city's sewers.
Dr. Edelman reflected on the importance of the resistance he helped lead:
“For the first time the halo of omnipotence and invincibility was torn from the Germans’ heads. For the first time the Jew in the street realised that it was possible to do something. It was a psychological turning point.”
Almost all the Jewish resistance fighters eventually died but Marek Edelman managed to escape, and then joined the Polish resistance struggle in greater Warsaw.
Dr. Edelman remained a human rights activist his entire life helping to found the independent Solidarity trade union movement and towards the end of his life calling for the creation of an "Israeli-Palestinian movement with the aim to exert pressure on the authorities on both sides of the conflict to demand a cease-fire and, in the longer run, a just peace acceptable to both sides."
In Yiddish we say" koved zayn ondenk (Honor his memory.)
Dr. Edelman's obituary is linked.