The Last Bundist

Marek Edelman, who was the representative of the Bund in the command of the Jewish Combat Organization (ZOB) led by Mordechai Anielewicz in the Warsaw ghetto, and who led the ZOB forces in the brushmakers' workshop area during the uprising, has died in Warsaw.

As part of my research on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, I went to visit him four years ago in Warsaw, where he was staying with friends. His friend Simha Rotem ("Kazhik") in Jerusalem, Edelman's comrade from the days of the uprising, had arranged the meeting. "What shall I bring him?" I asked Kazhik before taking off for Warsaw. "Bring him a bottle of cognac, and take along one as a present from me as well," he added. And so, carrying two bottles of cognac I walked into the Warsaw apartment were Edelman was awaiting me. We finished off one bottle during our two-hour conversation. We spoke in Yiddish. He smoked incessantly.

"You are the last Bundist," I opened, and he replied laughing, "No - there still are few in Australia." And then we talked about the uprising. I was particularly interested in hearing about the part played by the Revisionist-led ZZW (Jewish Military League) in the uprising, but on that he was not forthcoming. "What about the flags?" I asked him, referring to the Zionist and Polish flags raised by the ZZW over Muranowski Square.

"Where there flags?" he retorted with a sly smile. I knew about his hostile attitude toward the ZZW. "A gang of porters, thieves and smugglers, fascists," he had called them some years ago in an interview.

Then I showed him the composite picture that had been made of Pawel Frenkel, the commander of the ZZW. "Did you participate in the negotiations between ZOB and ZZW that were to lead to unifying the two resistance organizations?" I asked. "Yes," he replied. "We - Anielewicz, [Yitzhak] Zuckerman and I - were sitting on one side of the table, and Frenkel and two others on the other side, but nothing came of it."

I knew his views on Israeli politics, and did not discuss the situation in the Middle East, but as we parted he said "You must make peace with the Arabs."

One of the heroes of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, he had remained faithful to the Jewish socialist ideology of the Bund, even though the Polish socialists had disappointed him and Zionism, which the Bund had opposed, had prevailed.

Many of the survivors of the uprising who settled in Israel could not forgive Edelman for his frequent criticism of Israel. When on my return from Warsaw I tried to convince a number of Israeli universities to award Edelman an honorary doctorate in recognition of his role in the Warsaw ghetto uprising, I ran into stubborn opposition led by Holocaust historians in Israel. He had received Poland's highest honor, and at the 65th commemoration of the Warsaw ghetto uprising he was awarded the French Legion of Honor medal. He died not having received the recognition from Israel that he so richly deserved.