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The Ghetto Fights, Marek Edelman (1945)

A book that should be read at Yizkor

David Samuels
September 17, 2013

Marek Edelman’s spare, telegraphic account of the death of the Warsaw Ghetto should be read on Yom Kippur in Yiddish, Polish, English and Hebrew while everyone sits on the floor. The greatness of Edelman’s book as literature is that there are no superfluous words. The entire book feels like something that was cleansed in fire. Read it once, and you can understand why Hanna Krall chose Edelman as her mythic father, and turned him into a literary symbol and a Polish national hero. In his old age, Edelman was, at times, an ungenerous, abusive, egomaniac who was prone to score-settling—in addition to being one of the authentic heroes of the Solidarity movement. Still, there is no greater account of Jewish heroism in the face of crushing adversity; there is no more gut-wrenching account of Jewish suffering and pain; there is no more compelling argument for why it makes sense to talk about the Jews as a living people; there is no more stark account of shameful Jewish excuse-making and inaction while millions of other Jews were starved to death, beaten, gassed, shot, and burned alive.

David Samuels is most recently the author of Seul l’Amour Peut Te Briser le Coeur, a collection of his writing about America, to be published in September by Seuil.

David Samuels is the editor of County Highway, a new American magazine in the form of a 19th-century newspaper. He is Tablet’s literary editor.