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article imageLast Surviving Leader of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Dies at 90

By Chris Dade     Oct 3, 2009 in World
Marek Edelman, the last surviving leader of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, in which the Jewish inhabitants of the Ghetto fought back in vain against the Nazis, has died at the age of 90.
For the last two years of his life Mr Edelman lived at the family home of his friend Paula Sawicka in the city of Lodz, his wife Alina Margolis-Edelman died in Paris in 2008 , and it was there that he died on Friday.
Ms Sawicka told the Associated Press "He died at home, among friends, among his close people".
Mr Edelman's precise age was a little unclear because, as France 24 quotes him as saying in an interview with AFP in 2007:I don't know my exact age. My father died when I was very little, I almost don't remember him at all. My mother died a few years later, so there was no one who could tell me when I was born
However there is an official document of some description stating his date of birth as January 1 1919 and that is taken to be relatively accurate, hence the age of 90 attributed to him when he died.
Born in Homel, now in Belarus but then a part of Poland, Mr Edelman moved to Warsaw when he was still very young and grew up to become a member of the Bund, a socialist, anti-Zionist party active amongst the Jewish population of Eastern Europe at the time.
With the German invasion of Poland in 1939 and the establishment by the Nazis of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940, some 460,000 Polish Jews lived there in terrible conditions and starvation and disease killed half of the Ghetto's inhabitants within a year, the Bund led much of the resistance to the occupying German forces.
When in 1943 the Nazis began transporting the 60,000 Jews who remained in the Ghetto to death camps such as Treblinka and Majdanek more than 200 young Jewish fighters held off the might of the German army for three weeks in an attempt to save the people of the Ghetto. The Associated Press reports that Mr Edelman subsequently said of the efforts of him and his fellow fighters:No one believed they would be saved. We knew the struggle was doomed, but it showed the world there was resistance against the Nazis, that you could fight the Nazis
Shortly before the Germans finally overcame the fierce resistance of the young Jews Marek Edelman became the leader of the uprising following the death of Mordechaj Anielewicz..
The Germans ended the uprising by burning the Ghetto to the ground, leaving 55,000 people facing death or deportation to the concentration camps.
Mr Edelman managed to escape the Ghetto through the sewers on May 10, 1943; the other uprising leaders committed suicide two days earlier rather than face death at the hands of the Nazis, and helped organize Jews who were fighting as a part of the general Polish resistance movement. In 1944 he took part in the Warsaw Uprising in which the Polish home army fought unsuccessfully to drive the Nazis out of the city. Around 200,000 people died in the 1944 uprising, which occurred as the Red Army was making steady progress west as the German forces retreated.
After the war Mr Edelman remained in Poland and watched as many other Jews departed for Israel.
Practicing as a cardiologist in Lodz, Mr Edelman was active in anti-communist politics and in 1981 was interned because of his support for the Solidarity trade union, martial law having been imposed by Polish leader General Wojciech Jaruzelski.
France 24 tells of how in 1989, with the Communist regime on its last legs, Mr Edelman was elected to the Polish Senate.
In 1968 Mr Edelman had seen his wife and the couple's two children, Aleksander and Anna, leave for France to escape the anti-Semitic purges carried out by the Communist authorities. But the man who had fought so bravely during the war felt unable to leave with them, declaring:When you were responsible for the life of some 60,000 people, you don't leave and abandon the memory of them
Aleksander and Anna and grandchildren Liza and Tomek survive Mr Edelman, whose devotion to his countrymen and women and his fellow Jews saw him awarded Poland's highest civilian honor, the Order of the White Eagle, the French Legion of Honor and an honorary doctorate at Yale University.
Perhaps the most fitting tribute to Mr Edelman is to reproduce some words from an interview he gave in 2008 to the Associated Press. Speaking of how "Man is evil, by nature man is a beast" and asserting that educating people from a very young age that "there should be no hatred" is essential he added:When you cannot defend freedom through peaceful means, you have to use arms to fight Nazism, dictatorship, chauvinism
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