Warsaw ghetto uprising leader looks at love amid terror

2nd March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Over 150 pages, Edelman recounts ghetto memories which differ from the better-known narrative of mass deportations, killings, arrests, starvation, disease and doomed revolt.

Warsaw -- The last leader of the 1943 Warsaw Jewish ghetto uprising against the Nazis, Marek Edelman, has turned his attention from detailing the fighting to spotlight a little-known side of life in the zone of terror: love.

"No one has ever talked about love in the ghetto," Edelman told AFP after the launch of his new book I byla milosc w getcie (And There Was Love in the Ghetto).

"People told me it was too difficult a subject. But it was love, precisely, which enabled people to survive in that hell," he said.

Over 150 pages, Edelman recounts ghetto memories which differ from the better-known narrative of mass deportations, killings, arrests, starvation, disease and doomed revolt.

Edelman writes of youthful romances but also of love between children and parents, including the sacrifice of a mother who resolved not to abandon her daughter who was being sent to the Treblinka death camp.

"Everything I've written here, I'm telling as an observer," Edelman said.

On the eve of World War II, Poland was Europe's Jewish heartland, home to 3.5 million Jews who made up around a tenth of the country's total population.

After invading in 1939, Nazi Germany set up ghettos across Poland to isolate and later wipe out the Jews. Half of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust were Polish.

At its height, around 450,000 people were crammed behind the walls of the 307-hectare (758-acre) ghetto centred on Warsaw's traditional Jewish quarter.

About 100,000 died inside and more than 300,000 were sent by train to Treblinka, 100 kilometres (60 miles) to the northeast, mostly in mass deportations in 1942.

In April 1943, the Nazis moved to wipe out the remaining tens of thousands. That sparked an uprising by hundreds of poorly-armed young Jews who decided to fight rather than face near-certain death in the "Final Solution."

Among the leaders was Edelman -- whose official age is 89, although he is unsure because he was an orphan and his birth certificate was lost.

Around 7,000 Jews died in the three-week revolt, most of them burned alive, and more than 50,000 were deported to the death camps.

Edelman, who escaped through the sewers with 40 comrades, continued the battle in 1944 during an unsuccessful two-month uprising launched by the wider Polish resistance in Warsaw.

After the war, Edelman became a renowned cardiologist and from the 1970s was an active opponent of Poland's communist regime, helping negotiate its peaceful end in 1989.

He has published several books about the 1943 uprising, stretching back to the 1946 Getto walczy (The Ghetto Fights).

AFP/Expatica

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