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calendar   Monday - October 05, 2009

Last surviving leader of the armed Jewish revolt against the Nazis in the Warsaw

RIP .... One heck of a brave guy even if he didn’t think he was special.

Aren’t we lucky we never had to experience what this man did.  Not to mention all the others.  No other comments for me to make except to say how thankful I am to have been born and raised an American.  I sadly forget how lucky until I see something like this.  Reminders are good. None of us who never faced his experience can fully grasp it all.

Marek Edelman, who died on October 2, probably aged 90, was the last surviving leader of the armed Jewish revolt against the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto; having commanded the heroic but doomed struggle in April 1943 he was one of a tiny number of fighters to escape with his life, eventually taking part in the equally ill-fated citywide Uprising the following year.

Edelman was just 20 when the Nazis invaded Warsaw. By November 1940 the invading army had cut off his district from the rest of the city with walls and wire. As the anti-Semitic directives of the occupation were put into force, hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews were forced into the ghetto, inflating its population to almost half a million.

Conditions became intolerable and in the course of 1941 the ghetto population was decimated by disease and malnutrition. Early the following year however, with Hitler’s decision to implement the Endlösung, or final solution to “the Jewish question”, plans were put in place to liquidate the ghetto and its remaining occupants entirely.

From July 1942, Jews were herded through the ghetto to a square at its southern end, and on to trains 6,000 at a time. From there, the destinations were death camps. Two months after the ghetto clearance had begun, more than 300,000 Jews had been transported to the gas chambers. But even as Jews were encouraged on to the trains to Treblinka with promises of better conditions at their destination, Edelman and a small band of others were laying down plans for armed resistance.

He was under no illusion about the real fate of those leaving , and using the small influence of a position at the ghetto hospital, Edelman plucked those he thought would be useful to the rebel cause off the death transports.

By the time the Nazis paused the ghetto clearance, in September 1942, only 60,000 Jews remained inside. Edelman and his comrades, however, had little doubt that the Germans would return to finish the job. They began acquiring weapons and organising themselves into units which would try to make up for their lack of training and munitions with an intimate knowledge of the ghetto, both above ground, and, through its sewer network, below.

The Nazi onslaught began on April 19 1943, as more than 2,000 Nazi troops moved in. “The Germans weren’t expecting resistance of any kind, let alone that we would take up arms,” Edelman recalled recently. In fact, some 220 fighters of the Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, (ZOB, the Jewish Combat Organization), of which Edelman was deputy commander, had split into small groups each armed with a pistol, a few grenades, and some homemade explosives. They put up fierce resistance and the Nazi troops were forced to withdraw.

Over the next three weeks the fighting proved intense, with Jewish fighters killing dozens of Nazi soldiers. Inevitably, however, the losses were far higher on their own side, and, surrounded on May 8, ZOB’s leader, Mordechai Anielewicz, committed suicide, leaving Edelman in command. “After three weeks,” Edelman recalled, “most of us were dead.”

But just as Nazi forces were flushing out the few remaining fighters by burning down the ghetto ("we were beaten by the flames, not the Germans,” Edelman always insisted) two “liaison men” from the Polish underground on the “Aryan side” emerged through the sewers that still linked the ghetto with the rest of the city.

Though many of its tunnels were barely two feet high, and often booby-trapped, the sewer network had long proved a vital escape route. If they could reach the other side, the liaison men promised to shelter Edelman and his few remaining comrades. Accordingly, on the morning of May 10, as bemused passers-by looked on, Edelman and the filthy remnants of the ZOB emerged through a manhole in Warsaw proper. The fighters who remained behind were never heard of again. The uprising was at an end.

“We knew perfectly well that we had no chance of winning,” he recalled. “We fought simply not to allow the Germans alone to pick the time and place of our deaths. We knew we were going to die. Just like all the others who were sent to Treblinka.” Indeed, Edelman added, far from going passively, those who went steadfastly to Treblinika had shown the ultimate courage. “Their death was far more heroic. We didn’t know when we would take a bullet. They had to deal with certain death, stripped naked in a gas chamber or standing at the edge of a mass grave waiting for a bullet in the back of the head. It is an awesome thing, when one is going so quietly to one’s death. It was easier to die fighting than in a gas chamber.”

Marek Edelman was probably born in Homl, now Belarus, on New Year’s Day 1919. That, in any case, was the date marked on his official documents, but he freely admitted that he could not know for sure. “I don’t know my exact age,” he said in 2007. “My father died when I was very little, I almost don’t remember him at all. My mother died a few years later, so there was no one who could tell me when I was born.”

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Posted by peiper   United Kingdom  on 10/05/2009 at 09:57 AM   
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