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Shielding the Flame: An Intimate Conversation With Dr. Marek Edelman, the Last Surviving Leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Jan Paczkis|Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Krall's interview with Marek Edelman begins with how Poles and Jews have ignored each other's situation since WWII. However, she creates a symmetry that never existed. Polish books were never as strongly Polonocentric as Jewish books are Judeocentric. For example, history books written under Communism did individualize the Jews as victims, not merely "Polish citizens". On the other hand, Polish suffering is invisible in the vast majority of educational and popular Holocaust materials. [Perhaps the real objection is the fact that Polish books did not promote the notion that Jewish suffering was special, and above that of other peoples.

The mother of ZOB leader Mordechai Anielewicz was a peddler who sold fish. She, or her son, would paint the gills of leftover fish with red coloring so that the fish would look fresh. (p. 4, 11, 14). This practice is also mentioned in other books, and one cannot help but wonder if it did not contribute to the notion of Jewish merchants being swindlers.

A large part of the reason for the Polish Underground being unwilling to support the ZOB more substantially owed to its taint of Communism. Though some ZOB leaders have tried to deny this, it does come through. Marek Edelman mentioned singing the Internationale on May Day during the Uprising. (pp. 71-72, 92). Jurek Wilner, another prominent ZOB member, tried to teach a nun about Marx while she was trying to teach him about God. (pp. 98-99).

Seldom-told details of the Uprising are told. For instance, the planners of the Uprising had not foreseen that the Germans would start massive fires as part of their strategy for quelling the Uprising. (p. 66). This, of course, greatly reduced the effectiveness of the elaborate shelters and hideouts that had been constructed. Furthermore, the Germans had sound-detection equipment to help locate hiding Jews. (p. 92).

AK (Polish Home Army) Zbigniew Mlynarski "Kret" and his group tried to aid the Uprising externally by exploding a hole in the ghetto wall so that the Jews could flee the ghetto en masse. (pp. 96-97). Unfortunately, they could not get close enough to the wall before they were thrown back with heavy casualties. Earlier, the BBC had delayed its reporting about the daily deportation of Jews to Treblinka not out of malevolence towards Jews, but because it would at first not believe the reports, and wanted confirmation from other sources. (p. 195).

After the war, Edelman became a cardiologist, and part of his conversation with Krall focuses on medical issues. Observations in the ghetto had included the course of starvation in humans. Interestingly, most of the organs shrank during the process, but the brain did not. The need to treat penetrating chest wounds during the war eventually led to the development of open-heart surgery after the war.
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