Friday, December 23, 2011

A Consistent Freedom Fighter

WHEN he died two years ago he was buried with full military honours in Warsaw, his coffin draped in the red banner of the Jewish Workers' Bund, inscribed "Bund - Yidisher Sozialistisher Farband," and the choir sang the Bund anthem, "Di Shvue."

Tributes flowed in to Marek Edelman, who had been the last surviving commander of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto revolt, and some of them came from political leaders who would not have understood let alone cared for his politics, and media that had little to say for him when he was alive.

From ghetto fighter to cardiologist, Marek Edelman was a consistent fighter for human rights and dignity, and whatever allies might have sought his support, his enemies were enemies of freedom. Having been a member from his youth of the Bund, which fought for Jewish workers' rights wherever they lived rather than looking for a Promised Land elsewhere, he remained stubbornly in his native Poland even when antisemitism reared its ugly head again under so-called socialism.

He went on to champion the workers' rights committee KOR and Solidarity, also extending his sympathy to the people of Bosnia, to the extent of comparing the Muslims fight for survival to that of the Polish Jews against Nazism.

Some left-wing dissidents in Poland, such as the Trotskyist Ludwik Hass, whose own death preceded Edelman's by a year, criticised the former ghetto fighter for what they saw as his naievity, both about the Solidarnosc leaders' aims and the goals of Western democracy. They did not doubt Edelman's own motivations and decency.

Edelman's survival, and refusal to join the Zionists claiming exclusive rights to the Holocaust and ghetto fight, or to Palestine, were enough to earn him emnity and ensure that his name was seldom mentioned in either Establishment media or "official" history. To make matters worse in August 2002 he wrote an open letter to Palestinian resistance leaders, in which he criticised the use of suicide bombers to hit civilian targets, but infuriated the Israeli government and its supporters by addressing the Palestinians as fellow-fighters against oppression. Edelman addressed his letter "To all the leaders of Palestinian military, paramilitary and guerilla organizations — To all the soldiers of Palestinian militant groups".

When Edelman's book "The Ghetto Fights" had been republished in English in 1994, by the Socialist Workers' Party publishers Bookmarks, it received a hostile review in, of all places, the anti-fascist journal Searchlight, which had entrusted the task to some hack bred by the Zionist Union of Jewish Students. It was hard to detect which aroused most ire, Marek Edelman's straightforward historical account or the politics of those who had published it.

The motives of former Israeli Defence Minister and Foreign Minister Moshe Arens, who visited Edelman in Warsaw in 2005, should have been above such suspicion, but his efforts to have the former ghetto commander's heroism officially recognised were unsuccesful.

When on my return from Warsaw I tried to convince a number of Israeli universities to award Edelman an honorary doctorate in recognition of his role in the Warsaw ghetto uprising, I ran into stubborn opposition led by Holocaust historians in Israel. He had received Poland's highest honor, and at the 65th commemoration of the Warsaw ghetto uprising he was awarded the French Legion of Honor medal. He died not having received the recognition from Israel that he so richly deserved.

Perhaps in retrospect they did him an unintended favour.

Now a homage to Marek Edelman has appeared, from those with most claim to honour the tradition from which he came. Freedom in his Heart: a tribute to Marek Edelman,, is published by Jewish Socialist Publications. Some of the articles that appeared in the Jewish Socialist magazine shortly after Edelman's death, and there are also short extracts from "The Ghetto Fights". The articles have been written in Britain, Poland and America. The title is a sly allusion to Edelman's profession as a cardiologist as well as the spirit that was his lifeblood.

Following the Introduction, there's an essay by David Rosenberg, For dignity and freedom, not territory, on Edelman's Bundist principles and how they were applied during and after the war, in the fields of Jewish thought, Polish political life and international issues.

In So faithful to the people of the ghetto, Wlodka Blit Robertson, who was smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto as a child just a few weeks before the Uprising began, reflects on her personal interactions in Poland with Marek Edelman and the activist Alina Margolis who married Edelman).

Barry Smerin gives a first hand report of Edelman's funeral, Buried with his comrades, while Mike Shatzkin in A fateful promise tells the tragic tale of Edelman's attempts to help the daughter of a Bundist fighter, Zelman Frydrych, who perished in the ghetto uprising.

All this and extracts from The Ghetto Fights. A perfect present for Chanukah, even if it arrives a bit late If the lamp in the temple could last for eight days what's a few more days among friends, over Christmas?

You can order copies ( inside the UK it is £3 plus 65p p&p.) Cheques/POs to JS Publications. Send to JS BM3725 London WC1N 3XX

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