Warsaw ghetto uprising leader honoured at funeral

10th October 2009, Comments 0 comments

Marek Edelman, the last surviving leader of the 1943 ghetto uprising, died last week at the age of 90.

Warsaw -- Senior Polish and Jewish leaders joined hundreds of people Friday at the funeral of Marek Edelman, the last commander of the doomed 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising against Nazi Germany.

Edelman died last week at the age of 90. His death has been seen as the passing of an era in Polish history.

"He thought any manifestation of hatred in public life was the greatest evil and he condemned it at every step," Poland's first democratically elected post-communist prime minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki told mourners.

About 1,000 people gathered in brilliant autumn sunshine at the foot of the black stone monument in Warsaw honouring Jewish ghetto fighters, unveiled in 1948 near the site of their last battle.

In front of it, flames burned in a huge seven-armed menorah, one of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith.

President Lech Kaczynski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk as well as Polish anti-communist icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa attended.

"Marek was an example," Adam Michnik, a leading communist-era Polish dissident told the crowd. Edelman stood up for human rights, travelling to besieged Sarajevo, supporting gay rights and the rights of people with AIDS, Michnik said.

"I've come to say goodbye to a great man," Magda Wanielista, a 17-year-old Warsaw school student told AFP. "I have enormous respect for him, for his courage. He was a great example to many people."

In a nod to Edelman, mourners carried yellow tulips and plastic daffodils.

"Marek Edelman always laid daffodils at the ghetto uprising monument every April 19. But they are spring flowers," said Lukasz, 31, explaining the plastic flowers.

The cortege was later to go to Warsaw's Jewish cemetery, where Edelman was to be laid to rest alongside his comrades.

Edelman passed away October 2 in Warsaw at the presumed age of 90. Because he was orphaned, his exact date of birth is unknown. His identity documents bore the birth date January 1, 1919.

He was the last surviving leader of the valiant 1943 ghetto uprising. "We knew perfectly well that there was no way we could win," Edelman told AFP in a 2008 interview.

"It was a symbol of the fight for freedom. A symbol of standing up to Nazism, and of not giving in," he said.

Against all odds, the insurrection lasted three weeks, until the Nazis razed the ghetto.

Edelman escape the Nazi onslaught and a little over a year later took part in the ill-fated 1944 Warsaw uprising, ordered by Poland's London-based government-in-exile.

Unlike most other Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivors, he did not emigrate to Israel after the war.

"Someone had to stay to watch over all those who died here," he said later.

Edelman, who studied medicine and became a respected cardiologist, joined the underground anti-communist opposition in the 1970s.

He won a seat in parliament in elections in 1989 which sped the peaceful demise of the communist regime, serving until 1993.

Until his death, Edelman was an outspoken critic of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.


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