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When Yitzhak Rabin met Marek Edelman: A story for Holocaust Remembrance Day

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Marek Edelman’s funeral. Warsaw, Poland, October 9, 2009.

Marek Edelman’s funeral. Warsaw, Poland, October 9, 2009.

Here is a moving story my mother told me about the meeting between Yitzhak Rabin and Bundist Marek Edelman.

When my mother [the late Shulamit Aloni] was Israeli Minister of Education, she travelled to the Warsaw ghetto as part of a delegation with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The Polish side included among others Lech Walesa and [Deputy leader of Warsaw Ghetto uprising and lifelong Bundist] Marek Edelman. When it became clear to my mother that Rabin was refusing to shake Edelman’s hand, she could not suppress her anger. She scolded him almost like a child: “Yitzhak,” she said, “are you not ashamed of yourself? Possibly the last brave warrior of the Warsaw Ghetto and you’re hiding your face, you go shake his hand!”

Rabin mumbled something about his mother, “Red Rosa,” not forgiving him for reconciling with Bundists. But my mother insisted and said to him, “Go!” He shook hands and embraced Marek Edelman, and began to talk to him in Yiddish and there were tears in both their eyes. Two fighters — a Bundist and a Zionist — both crying in Yiddish.

At the time when I heard the story I thought, perhaps that inside every tough Sabra with blood on their hands there hides a Yiddish speaking Bundist soul which believes in class rather than ethnic solidarity. Perhaps the assassination of Rabin by the fascist Jewish Right prevented the last opportunity for the tikkun (repair) of the Zionist Israeli soul . . .

As Marek Edelman said: “A Jew is someone who protects the weak.”

Translated by Sol Salbe

Udi Aloni
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16 Responses

  1. hophmi
    hophmi on April 29, 2014, 3:07 pm

    “As Mark Edelman said: ‘A Jew is someone who protects the weak.'”

    And many, many Jews do just that. They stand up for the weak. But a Jew is also someone who stands up for himself, as Marek Edelman doubtless understood, regardless of his position on Israel.

    • pabelmont
      pabelmont on April 29, 2014, 4:15 pm

      Crazed by anger, hurt, rage at the Nazis, the Poles, and all their (perhaps less violent precursors, because Zionism began before 1900) — and determined to stick up for themselves as is right and proper — the Zionists determined that the only way was to find an innocent victim and oppress him, because without a victim, even if innocent, to oppress, the Zionist program could not be carried out.

      It was a dual program. On the one hand it was called “sticking up for ourselves”. On the other hand it was called “victimizing an innocent people”.

      Which was right? Both.

      What to do now? Well, presumably, limit the victimization to that done in the heat of self-realization (in 1948). End the settlements, end the occupation, stop the racist governance of Israel-48, and allow the exiles of 1948 to return (some of them will, many will not, especially if they have somewhere else to go, hint — hint — a LARGE Palestine). In short adopt the wsame principles as those espoused by BDS.

      BDS means sticking up for yourself if (like the Jews) one is an oppressed people.

    • Daniel Rich
      Daniel Rich on April 29, 2014, 6:52 pm

      @ hophmi,

      Q…They stand up for the weak.

      R: From a Palestinian pov, you stand ‘on‘ them…

  2. Zofia
    Zofia on April 29, 2014, 3:51 pm

    Well… that can be said about any other group, nation, or individual… He also said this: “To be a Jew means always being with the oppressed and never the oppressors”. That is why he criticized Israel: “standing up for oneself” doesn’t mean being an oppressor, and he saw the difference.
    “In old age, he was not afraid to speak up for the Palestinians when he felt that the Jewish self-defence for which he had fought was in danger of crossing the line into oppression”: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timcollard/100012403/marek-edelman-death-of-a-great-man/
    “In the summer of 2002, Edelman, still going strong, intervened in Israel’s show trial of the now jailed Palestinian resistance leader, Marwan Barghouti. He wrote a letter of solidarity to the Palestinian movement, and though he criticised the suicide bombers, its tone infuriated the Israeli government and its press. Edelman had always resented Israel’s claim on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising as a symbol of Jewish liberation. Now he said this belonged to the Palestinians.
    He addressed his letter to the Palestinian ZOB, “commanders of the Palestinian military, paramilitary and partisan operations – to all the soldiers of the Palestinian fighting organisations”. The old Jewish anti-Nazi Ghetto fighter had placed his immense moral authority at the disposable of the only side he deemed worthy of it: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/marek-edelman-last-surviving-leader-of-the-1943-warsaw-ghetto-uprising-against-the-nazis-1798644.html
    So he knew the difference between “standing up for oneself” and being an oppressor- some ppl don’t see the diff (or don’t want to see it) and try to hide oppression behind the mask of “self-defence”.

    Don’t try to blur that fact about him….

    • hophmi
      hophmi on April 29, 2014, 4:18 pm

      “That is why he criticized Israel: “standing up for oneself” doesn’t mean being an oppressor, and he saw the difference.”

      From Poland he offered this criticism. Yitzchak Rabin also understood the difference, which is why he called for peace negotiations as if there were no terror and fighting terror as if there were no peace negotiations. The difference is that Rabin was the Israeli Prime Minister.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka on April 29, 2014, 5:42 pm

        “From Poland he offered this criticism.”

        Truth is truth, no matter from where one speaks.

      • Eva Smagacz
        Eva Smagacz on April 30, 2014, 5:07 am

        Marek was a Pole, a Jewish Pole, and proud of that. He understood universal justice in the way no Zionist is capable of. A giant of a man.

      • hophmi
        hophmi on April 30, 2014, 11:10 am

        “He understood universal justice in the way no Zionist is capable of. A giant of a man.”

        Yes, and there would probably be a lot more Jewish Poles proud of being Poles had 91% of them not been slaughtered between 1939 and 1945. That’s the part you seem not to understand.

      • Woody Tanaka
        Woody Tanaka on April 30, 2014, 12:57 pm

        “Yes, and there would probably be a lot more Jewish Poles proud of being Poles had 91% of them not been slaughtered between 1939 and 1945. That’s the part you seem not to understand.”

        What?? Your criticism validates Eva’s praise. Responding to a crime, whose primary feature was the rejection of the notion of universal justice as a moral demand, by embracing an ideology of ethno-religious supremacism is rank insanity.

      • Ecru
        Ecru on April 30, 2014, 7:30 am

        @ Hoppy

        Even before WWII as I recall there were critics of Nazi Germany from, scandalously to you it would appear, outside Germany. Did that make them invalid Hoppy?

        As Woody Tanaka says – “truth is truth.” No matter where it’s uttered.

    • pabelmont
      pabelmont on April 29, 2014, 4:30 pm

      Zofia: Thanks for this. My reply above to hophmi was off hand and without knowledge of Edelman. And, of course, I do not approve of oppression, or of Zionism from its beginnings.

      My father once staggered me by saying that in the world, there are always winners and losers, and it is better to be a winner. (I think maybe it was “victims” and “oppressors”). He was a man who had never fought in a war, a fearful man. Edelman was a fighter and had it seems overcome fear in favor of principle. I am sure it is not easy to stand up for principle when you are fearful. This is not an excuse for Zionism or for anything else, maybe an explanation.

      One does wonder why Zionism, having triumphed beyond anyone’s imagining, still behaves like an oppressor-bully. It is as if its goal was not to get a country so much as to become an unendlessly-triumphing bully.

      A man who wanted to found an orphanage robbed the village bank (and bankrupted all the members of the village) in order to get funds to found his orphanage. He claimed to be a philanthropist (because he helped orphans) but was branded a criminal (because he robbed the bank). He didn’t like being called a criminal, so he continued — robbing other banks, over and over, and still he was called a criminal. What could he do — other than continue robbing still more banks? (But he never said he was sorry.)

      Thanks again.

    • tree
      tree on April 29, 2014, 5:11 pm

      Another point to be made about Marek Edelman is that not only did he fight in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, but he also fought in general Warsaw Uprising in 1944. The existence of Polish Jews fighting alongside other Poles in WWII is one fact that the Zionist historiography obscures. From Timothy Snyder’s description of the Warsaw Uprising in “Bloodlands”:

      Polish soldiers in uniforms and armbands began their assault on on German positions in the afternoon of 1 August 1944…On this first day of the Warsaw Uprising, the Home Army secured a great deal of the downtown and Old Town of the city, but failed to capture most of the essential military targets. … The inexperienced and lightly armed troops had an especially difficult time with guarded and fortified objectives. Nevertheless, the mood among the fighters and in the city itself was euphoric.

      When and where Polish power replaced German power in those early days of August 1944, surviving Jews emerged from their places of shelter among Poles. Many asked to be allowed to fight. As Michal Zylberberg recalled: ” A Jewish perspective ruled out passivity. Poles had taken up arms against the mortal enemy. Our obligations as victims and fellow citizens was to help them.” Other combatants in the Warsaw Uprising were veterans of the ghetto uprising of 1943. Most of these Jews joined the Home Army, other’s found the People’s Army, or even the anti-Semitic National Armed Forces. Some Jews (or Poles of Jewish origin) were already enlisted in the Home Army and the People’s Army. Almost certainly, more Jews fought in the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944 than in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April 1944.

      In early August, as the Home Army failed to take the important German positions in Warsaw, its soldiers did register one victory. Officers gathered volunteers for a dangerous attack upon a heavily guarded position. On 5 August, Home Army soldiers entered the ruins of the ghetto, attacked Concentration Camp Warsaw, defeated the ninety SS-men who guarded it, and liberated its remaining 348 prisoners, most of them foreign Jews. On of the Home Army soldiers in this operation was Stanislaw Aronson, who had himself been deported from the ghetto to Treblinka. Another recalled a Jew who greeted them with tears on his cheeks; yet another, the plea of a Jew for a weapon and a uniform, so that he could fight. Many of the liberated Jewish slave laborers did join the Home Army, fighting in their striped camp uniforms and wooden shoes, with “complete indifference to life or death,” as one Home Army soldier recalled.

      page 300-302

  3. Whizdom
    Whizdom on April 29, 2014, 5:15 pm

    Marek Edelman was an amazing and courageous human being. Shamefully treated by Israel, simply because of his non-zionism.

  4. Daniel Rich
    Daniel Rich on April 29, 2014, 7:04 pm

    A story for Palestinian Remembrance Day; Israeli forces demolish West Bank mosque as peace talks deadline passes.

    And the ‘world community’ [wink, wink, nudge, nudge] remains oh, so silent…

  5. Ecru
    Ecru on April 30, 2014, 4:46 am

    As Mark Edelman said: “A Jew is someone who protects the weak.”

    It’s such a shame Israel didn’t use his definition of Jewish in its Jewish Law of Return instead of opting for the polar opposite…..

  6. DaBakr
    DaBakr on May 1, 2014, 11:38 am

    “While Zionist parties urged Jews to leave and emigrate to Palestine, the Bund took up the call for Doikeyt or Living Here and Now. The critical problems of Jewry needed to be resolved, not by escaping from the hard realities of everyday life, but by addressing “them, Here and Now, in Poland, by means of an energetic political and cultural program.

    At the heart of the Bund’s vision was the creation of a modern, secular and culturally autonomous Jewish society which would strive for the ideals of Socialism and for the rights of the Jewish working class. Yiddish, the centuries-old vernacular of Polish Jewry and the language of the majority of Jews in interwar Poland, would be the national language of this new society.”

    Oh, and that worked out really well for them. Over in Russia too. And its not like Jews didn’t live in productive societies for long stretches of time without undue harrassment or violence. However-their ‘Jewishness’ was always a factor and in Muslim oriented dynasties (e.g. Persia, then Ottoman) Jewish automatically meant Dhimmitude (which is still practiced today against Christian and Jew in Muslim nations).
    However-there is no way to predict what would have happened and modern Israel has not been around long enough to prove either the doomsayers or the Zionist dreamers to be accurate in their long term vision for Israel. The oddsmakers in Vegas I would imagine would have a pretty good handle on that. As do the founders/ceo’s of the fortune 500.

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