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And There Was Love in the Ghetto

Witold Bereś

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And There Was Love in the Ghetto by Marek Edelman & Paula Sawicka; first edition published by Świat Książki, Warsaw 2009; Third edition published by Czarne, Wołowiec 2015

He would always say that the ghetto was not all about starvation, fear and death, but that it was about life, and what is more, love. He we particularly found of a story of a particular couple… She was “a blonde, small girl, but beautiful.” He was “a tall, big guy, who would go to action, bring back bread and so on. They slept together in a room where some 20 other people spent the nighs. So in the morning as you were negotiating your way out of the room you could see her sleep in his arms. She was small—the length of his arm maybe—is if melted in his arm. Being with him was about the sense of security, which was clear to see. Obviously they both died later, but this does not matter. For the time they spent together they spent in peace. The little girl alone would not have survived a single day—and yet, with him she got three months, or maybe two months of happiness, warmth, and security as she understood it—she was not alone.”

He would argue that nobody would have made it without love. Without closeness; without the sense of security and support. It didn’t have to be a boyfriend or a girlfriend—it could have been your mother or sister. When you are seventeen you need a hug. “It feels bad, but when you get a hug you feel better instantly. If a young girl is hungry she is happy to put her head on somebody’s lap. Sometimes you think of hunger but there are times when you think about love.”

Paula Sawicka (Edelman spent his last years at the Sawicki’s apartment) has written down many such stories. She added others: about special places in the Ghetto, the conspiration, and obviously, about the Ghetto uprising. The tale is told in Edelman own words as she did not edit those stories for words.

Edelman is far away brom being a moralist. It is not his style to do so and he would often underline that there were different morals in the ghetto (and more broadly in the wartime) does not match that of peacetime. Looking back in memory—which is always difficult—at those events he underlines the current—for it is universal—aspect of the Holocaust. It is not by coincident that he begins his narrative with the following message: “We must teach at schools, preschools, and universities that hatred is evil.” Then he adds: “To hate is easy. To love is not—it requires determination and devotion.” And in the end, he adds: “We have to teach the youth again today, that life comes before convenience. Said simply: we have to know and remember so something like that does not happen again.”



Several black-and-white stills from the Warsaw ghetto (including the most peculiar, which shows an old man talk to a young, apparently worried female whose face is very male), a fragment of pre-war map of Warsaw with a clearly marked area where Jews were packed later, and over a hundred pages of exceptionally strange memories when it comes to wartime—memories of love. (…) This time, Edelman asks a question which is only at a glance non-heroic: what caused those people live and fight? Many times did he underline that it was because they were not alone.  It was thanks to drinking vodka together  (vodka in Poland can be found even if it is not available); thanks to the good time they had together (even though it was to defy death), and, above all, thanks to the need to save life’s most noble forms.

Edelman does not avoid harsh tales, obviously. For instance, the one about a bisexual female officer who openly made love to an old Jew and stayed with him nearly until the end of the Warsaw Uprising. Or another story, about a female doctor, who was in her forties and who was rescued by several boys (later, she was dating each one of them). Those who set themselves to loneliness in fact chose an early grave as compared to those who lived in communities. The lesson which Marek Edelman has for us from that, rings one piece of the Old Testament wisdom, which says that “We have to teach (…) that evil is evil, that hatred is evil, and that love is a duty.” Those words are now being brought to us by the witness of events which had not been foreseen by any Holy Book.

By Marta Cuber, Polityka, Feb 10, 2009.




“Hanuś, come here,” I called to her. “There is a way out for you, for people like you… Tomorrow you will get out to the Aryan side.”

They were divided by the sidewalk and this little square with a fence around it.

“I have here some 150 children, I can’t leave them on their own. They can’t go to the railways cars alone.” (…)

She stayed with him though she knew what would come. Was it out of duty or she loved them? At that time it was all the same.”



“She was hanging naked for all those 50 or 100 people, jammed in the same room, to see. And she was being raped in the corner and all of them saw that, and I was in a distant place but also saw that.”



“To live there in the Ghetto on your own was impossible. You could not survive like that and remain human. You always needed someone to pair with, someone who thinks like you; someone who is engaged with you as you are with him or her. Someone you’d do all that for, and who’d do all that for you. This is love.”



“That’s all that’s with me, such shreds of memories. People I told it to asked me if it all was true. Yes, it was true. Each dot. That’s it. Nothing more.”