Tributes have flowed for Marek Edelman, the last surviving leader of the 1943 Warsaw Jewish Ghetto uprising, who died on Friday aged 87. The revolt broke out in protest at the mass transportation by the Nazis of Jews from the ghetto to concentration camps. With about 60,000 people still in the ghetto’s walls, young Jewish fighters battled for nearly a month against German troops.
Mr Edelman, then aged 23, took command of the struggle after the deaths of other leaders and fought until the end when the Nazis brutally finished off the uprising by razing the ghetto. Mr Edelman escaped through the sewers and participated the following year in the city-wide Warsaw Uprising, which also ended in tragedy when Stalin banned the advancing Soviet armies from aiding the Poles.
“He reached a good age. He left as a contented man even if he was always aware of the tragedy he went through,” said Wlady slaw Bartoszewski, a former Polish foreign minister. “I don’t want to say he was irreplaceable. Nobody is. But there are few people like Marek Edelman.”
Mr Edelman was born in the Soviet city of Gomel before moving to Warsaw in the late 1920s. His parents both died when he was young and he was left to make his own way. When the war started, he co-founded the Jewish Combat Organisation and became its last leader in the ghetto uprising.
Later, Mr Edelman told a biographer: “Humanity has decided that it is more beautiful to die with a gun in your hand than without. So, we went along with this decision.”
After the war, most of Poland’s surviving Jews emigrated to the new state of Israel. But Mr Edelman stayed behind and became a leading cardiologist. He refused to leave even during the Communist party’s 1968 anti-Semitic purge when he temporarily lost his job. To the annoyance of many Zionists, he remained to the end a faithful Jew and a Polish patriot.
From the 1970s, Mr Edelman supported the growing anti-communist protests in Poland and later become a staunch backer of the Solidarity movement. After the fall of communism, he became a revered figure – an icon of Poland’s Jewish heritage and of the country’s repeated struggles for freedom.