A few words on Marek Edelman

An obituary from a few years back for Marek Edelman just came across the timeline on the book of faces. Edelman remains an inspiration for reasons political, moral and symbolic. He is most known as a leader in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis but from early years was a Bundist and fought for Jewish liberation as part of universal liberation. He did not fight for assimilation but specifically as a Jew for universal liberation. The Bund is one of several salient examples that show particularist and and universalist struggles are not polar, but can easily be intertwined.

Edelman continued his revolutionary activism through out his life including sending a statement in August, 2002 addressed to “commanders of the Palestinian military, paramilitary and partisan operations – to all the soldiers of the Palestinian fighting organisations”. The statement has big problems but also tremendous power in where he addresses Palestinian armed groups as peers and also positions them as ‘partisans’, a term carrying considerable weight coming from a legendary anti-Nazi partisan resistance fighter. Thus it infuriated Zionists coming as it did during a hot summer of the Second Intifada.

One thing he said elsewhere has always struck me and stuck with me.

“We knew perfectly well that we had no chance of winning. 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…. 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 was easier to die fighting than in a gas chamber.”

In this phrasing he captures all kinds of dignity amongst the shoah‘s horror. Paulo Freire wrote in Pedagogy of Freedom that “unfinishedness” is a defining human characteristic. Edelman affirms this when he says, “We fought simply not to allow the Germans alone to pick the time and place of our deaths”. May he rest in power and long may we lift his name.

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