Aleksander Edelman: The word homeland has little meaning for me

Aleksander Edelman podczas spotkania wokół książki "Nieznane zapiski o getcie warszawskim" autorstwa Marka Edelmana, 2.10.2017 Centrum Kultury Jidysz w Warszawie

“Unknown notes about the Warsaw Ghetto”, a book by Marek Edelman, had to wait several dozen years for its first publication. I have met with Marek Edelman, Aleksander, to discuss the book published eight years after the author’s death and about the Polish contemporary times.

You don’t live in Poland?

No.

How often do you come here?

Let’s say four times a year.

What does Poland mean for you?

I was born here, so it is a country I am coming back to, but I wouldn’t say it is my homeland. This does not mean anything today. And if it does, it is something ambiguous, an instrument of manipulation. I have friends here. I am coming back mainly to see them. I also work with Polish scientists. Poland means friends…. or, first of all, the tragedy that took place here. Probably mainly that’s why I come here. I think that at the moment people come here, land at the airport, take a bus or a taxi, come to the Polin Museum, go to the Jewish cemetery, go to Auschwitz and leave. I do not believe that this is the expression of memory. It is some sort of bad Holocaust tourism. So maybe someone has to come here normally and really think about it.

What does it mean to “come normally”?

To come without rush. To come to your own place, in a certain sense.

You said that it is not homeland, because homeland leads to….

…. nationalism, antagonisms, hatred towards others. The word homeland doesn’t mean anything good for me.

Is it dangerous in Poland?

Dangerous in what respect?

Do you think that nationalist movements are getting stronger and threatening safety?

We would need to clarify what safety that is. When a state disintegrates, law is broken, worst things can happen. What the worst actually is, I don’t know. It starts with the fact that there is no freedom of speech, and ends with people imprisoned and beaten on the streets. This year’s Nike Literary Award winner was the author of a book about Grzesiek Przemyk. And suddenly it turns out that it was believed that it would never come back again – just as it used to be thought that there would never be the extermination of Jews – and here we are already saying that something might happen. The point is not that it is already dangerous – sometimes it is, of course, but not yet for our loved ones – but “homeland” leads us to shut ourselves down, we do not want the other, we are hostile towards the other and we are threatened by the other, even if in fact he or she is no danger to us.

Do you feel good in Poland?

I feel just as normal as you probably do. I feel good when I am with my friends. Except for 1968, I have never experienced any anti-Semitic attacks,

Why did your father never left Poland for Israel?

Israel? Why should he have left for Israel?

Many Jews associated Israel with this place where they should be.

But why? It is so hot there. Before the war, Zionists were active. Their goal was to gather the Jews and go with them to Palestine. Now there is Israel and Zionists are no longer needed. Now there are Israelis. There are few of them and they want all the Jews to go there, but why?

This is not a good idea?

No, I do not think it is a good idea. If someone feels good there, likes it to be warm, likes to speak Hebrew, it is a good idea. As for me,I prefer to go to Greece. Although I have been told that it is the most anti-Semitic country in Europe.

Greece?

Apparently. The fewer Jews the more anti-Semitism.

A book with your father’s unknown reminiscences has just been released. What is so special about it that has not been included in previous publications? What new does it add to this story?

First of all, it is his first testimony from the Warsaw Ghetto unfiltered by a journalist; what he experienced until the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It is also a valuable document in factual terms. We could say that it is badly written, or that it is well written, but it was written. My father wrote what he wanted and remembered twenty years later, what affected him the most. The report “The Ghetto Fights”, which he wrote in 1945, was dry, intended for the Bund members, for example in America. The memoirs that have just been published are more personal. One feels that sometimes he is afraid, that others are afraid. Sometimes someone cries. I think that this is the first time we get to see such a perspective from him.

Why is this book being released so late? It was written in the 1960s.

These were three reams of paper. We found them in our mother’s documents to be thrown away. It was written in 1967,1968. I know that he sent two fragments to a newspaper in Krakow. They replied that it was not interesting, that everything had already been said on that subject, and that at the moment it was dangerous to print it in Poland. I remember when this negative reply arrived. Both parents were upset. And probably it was then that he abandoned further writing.

We have not published this immediately after his death, either. It was handwritte and therefore had to be typed and edited. The text needed annotations, references, because the events described there had happened too long ago. None of the readers would know what it was all about. Martyna Rusiniak-Karwat did it very well. All that took time.

If your father lived today, would he be happy with Poland? With how it looks today? Would he have reservations?

What do you think?

I think he would have.

Precisely. I think he would be very disappointed. You can talk to him there. He takes phone calls on Saturdays, when all Jews pray.

I will call him then.



About the Author

Katarzyna Markusz
Journalist since 2001, dealing with the history and culture of Polish Jews, conducting research on the Jewish community in Sokołów Podlaski. Editor-in-Chief of Jewish.pl.