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Marek Edelman - True Jewish Hero (born 19 September 1919, died 2 October 2009)

News reaches us of the passing of Marek Edelman, founding member of the Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa (or ZOB, Polish for ‘Jewish Combat Organisation’), and who led the paralilitary organisation during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against the Nazi war machine as it sought to impose a ‘final solution’ upon the Jews herded into the Warsaw ghetto.

A force of 220 fighters caught German soldiers by surprise as they made a last push to finally clear the ghetto.  The resistance held out for three weeks using guerilla tactics, each armed only with “a pistol, a few grenades, and some homemade explosives”.

Edelman survived and stayed in Poland after the war, despite calls to rally to Israel and reaffirmed his bravery by joining with the cause of Solidarity.

Edelman, then, was no ordinary man.  He answered the call of history many times.

You probably won’t find it mentioned in the numerous obituaries, but in 2002 he wrote a letter addressed to “all the leaders of Palestinian military, paramilitary and guerilla organizations” and “all the soldiers of Palestinian militant groups” which prompted one commentator to note:

Though the letter criticised the suicide bombers, its tone infuriated the Israeli government and its press. He wrote in a spirit of solidarity from a fellow resistance fighter, as a former leader of a Jewish uprising not dissimilar in desperation to the Palestinian uprising in the occupied territories…

This set up a howl of rage in the Zionist press, who reminded their readers that Mr Edelman, despite his heroism in the 1940s, is a former supporter of the anti-Zionist socialist Bund, and can therefore not be trusted. Nothing infuriates Zionists more than the arguments of anti-Zionist Jews, who have such a courageous and principled history. The essence of the intellectual case for Zionism is that its opponents are anti-semitic. But when Jews, especially heroic Jews such as Marek Edelman, speak out against Zionism, and especially if they denounce Israeli imperialism and defend the victims of it, how can they be accused of anti-semitism?

One obituary tells us that

ZOB combined Zionists, communists and Jewish socialist Bundists. Edelman was an ardent follower of the latter group, which opposed Zionism and religious orthodoxy, and championed Jewish cultural autonomy in a secular Europe.

Edelman was a man who stayed true to his principles when faced both with a powerful army bent on his destruction, and a repressive communist state attempting to smother his dissent by interning him.  He faced both these trials and beat the odds, and became a leading cardiologist.

The world mourns the passing of a true hero.

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