Tuesday, June 01, 2004

"Every war with fascism is our business" 

Marek Edelman is the last surviving military leader of the heroic Jewish Uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. He recently spoke to a Polish television channel TVN24, and the interview has been re-published in a Polish weekly "Przekroj". It's not available anywhere else in English (or for that matter electronically), so I take this opportunity to translate and publish extensive excerpts from the interview. Edelman experienced evil many times in his long and distinguished life; he has also faced it and fought it bravely. What he has to say bears listening to.

Interviewer: Not a day seems to go by in Iraq without a terrorist attack, and in the last few days two Polish soldiers and a Polish journalist have died.

Edelman: And do you know any war where nobody dies? I don't. Alas, it's in man's make-up; there's a fatal flow there that makes him kill, for pleasure or over some silly beliefs.

Interviewer: So this war is one over some silly beliefs?

Edelman: Now, now. Who started killing people? Americans didn't invade a wonderful democratic Iraq. There was a dictatorship there, torture, terror.

Interviewer: But there are people who say it's not our business.

Edelman: And whose business is it? Every war with fascism is our business. In 1939 there were also many people who said that the war in Poland was not their war, and what happened? Great nations fell because politicians listened to those who were saying that it's not worth dying for Gdansk [Danzig]. If only we'd intervened militarily after Hitler re-entered Rhineland we probably would not have had the war and the Holocaust.

Interviewer: Many people do understand that, but they don't understand why the Americans have to go to the other side of the world and fight over Iraq now.

Edelman: And why did they go to Europe then? Who defeated Hitler and saved Europe from fascism? The French? No, the Americans did. We thanked them then because they saved us. Today we criticise them because they're saving somebody else.

Interviewer: Returning to the question about having Polish soldier on the ground in Iraq. Many Poles don't want them there.

Edelman: If they don't want them there, let's just keep waiting and then let's see from which direction the rockets and the bombs will come from - will we in the end be lorded over by Saddam's viceroys or Bin Laden's, just as we were once lorded over by Hitler's viceroys.

Interviewer: Do you really believe in such a scenario?

Edelman: It's possible. If we will keep closing our eyes to evil, then that evil will defeat us tomorrow. Unfortunately there's more hatred in men than love. Those who murder understand only force and nothing else. And the only force that is able to stand against them is the American democracy.

Interviewer: But the Americans aren't going too well with introducing democracy in Iraq.

Edelman: That's true, but it's a difficult war. The Second World War went for five years. Democracy tends to be structurally weak. Dictatorship is strong. Hitler was able to mobilise several million people and chase another few million into gas chambers or slave labour. But only democracy saves the humanity and saves millions of lives. The more I see people getting murdered the more I believe that we need to put a stop to that. The murderers understand only deeds.

Interviewer: What about the photos from Abu Ghraib - don't they cause you to start question that American democracy?

Edelman: Well, it happened. Among several hundred thousand American soldiers there were a few perverts...

Interviewer: But the incident nevertheless seriously damaged America's standing. What to say to Polish people after the death of several more of our soldiers?

Edelman: But they died fighting for their freedom. How many thousands of people died in the Warsaw Uprising [in 1944]?

Interviewer: But those people then were fighting for their country.

Edelman: They were fighting for their world. Free and democratic. Just like those who died during the martial law [in Poland in 1981-3]. Did they die only for Poland? No. They died for the freedom of the whole Europe, for the freedom of all those enslaved behind the Iron Curtain.

Interviewer: But the Spanish withdrew their troops from Iraq after the terrorist attack in Madrid.

Edelman: Please don't tell me what the Spanish did. So what? Do you seriously think that it will save them from further attacks? No. The weak just get punched in the head. Pacifism lost a long time ago.

Interviewer: There are more and more voices saying that Poland shouldn't work so close with the Americans and that instead we should get closer to France and Germany.

Edelman: France used to be a great power, culturally and intellectually. And what happened to them? They didn't want to fight for their own democracy, they thought it wasn't really their war [in 1939]. And they lost everything, because when you bend over and take it - even once - then you're finished. And what's that whole talk about the difference between American politics and European politics? There is no other politics but international democratic politics. If we withdraw from Iraq now, what do we have left? Cosying up to Iran and Saudi Arabia? ...

Interviewer: Is it possible to introduce democracy by force?

Edelman: Yugoslavia showed that it's possible...

Interviewer: You used your own personal history and your moral authority to appeal for the intervention then.

Edelman: Yes... Those who say that you don't have to fight for freedom, don't understand what fascism is. I do.
Edelman is no stranger to talking strong and principled stances. Having survived the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943, he came back to Warsaw the following year to fight in the Warsaw Uprising. In the 1980s he was an anti-communist activist in the "Solidarity" movement, and in the late 1990s he wrote an open letter to President Clinton urging him to take action to stop the slaughter in Kosovo. Last year, at the start of the Iraqi war, he already spoke out in support of the Coalition action.

Marek Edelman is a man of great courage and moral conviction. His voice needs to be heard.


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