Boh spit by Witold Bereś and Krzysztof Burnetko, translated by Ksenia Starosielskaya, published by Tekst, Moscow 2013
Three years after the publication of the Polish edition, the Moscow-based publishing house Tekst launched conversations with Marek Edelman entitled Boh spit. In October 2013, the Polish Culture Institute in Moscow and the Memorial Association from Russia, joined hands to celebrate the launch with a meeting and a screening of Commander Edelman.
The screening was followed by a discussion with speakers including Borys Wladimirovitch Dubin (1946-2014), a renown Russian sociologist and translator of English, Spanish, French, Polish and Latin-American literature, (he translated, among others a few Polish authors, including Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, Czesław Miłosz, Janusz Szuber, and Eugeniusz Tkaczyszyn-Duycki).
“The best achievement of the authors of the movie is that they did not make a hero out of Marek Edelman but let him be where he was—in the privacy of his home,” said Wladimirovitch Dubin.
“It is a very important thing for I understand the needs of us—the viewers today—and others who will read the book or watch the movie, especially in a country like the contemporary Russia, to search for a hero. I understand the need to discover a saint who may be worshiped, who would show us the way and so on. Marek Edelman, the way he was in this movie and others that I could see, and through what he said in the books I have read, completely negates the posture of a saint, a super-hero who knows and understands everything. But here another paradox pops up. Edelman is a decision maker. Those words were uttered in the movie.
“It is an important aspect of his image. It is a man who did not learn all the secrets of the universe; who does not know many things; who isn’t God nor saint, but who knows that he needs to take a decision. A decision that is not only about himself but about many other people. Here, two important aspects appear—or even two sets of aspects. The first is about where Edelman was and what he came through. When the movie shows his post-war life as a civilian, there is this line which said that Edelman was still in the ghetto. It is a very important observation. He lived in the post-war reality and did his best as a physician, human rights defender, partially writer and witness—but with all that he lived as if he still was in the wartime ghetto. The measure of his actions was what he saw and lived through there in the ghetto. Another man, who came through similar experience—a Nazi concentration camp—wrote about the ‘grey sphere’ of the human existence which emerges in such inhuman conditions. Yet another author, much later, said that there is a different alchemy in the ‘grey sphere’. All the metals that divide evil from good, and what’s permitted from what’s forbidden, get dissolved there. There is a different definition of the human being there. I think that, such complex, internally contradicting and, to some extent, tragic concept of the human being Marek Edelman retained for ever and it was the source of strength for him both in the ghetto and in normal reality. The role of Charon, of which wrote Hanna Krall, was the basis of Edelman’s activities.
“And another thing—along with the ‘grey sphere’ and the ‘different alchemy’—all words spoken by Edelman with which the movie starts—Edelman says that the man is evil, malicious, and that there is no point in expecting anything good of him. This, arguably, is not even his own opinion.
“Once Kant wrote that kinky knot of human nature may not be reformed into anything that is straight-forward. I wouldn’t call it the lack of faith in humans. That’s something else. I’d call it a ‘different measure’.
“When Edelman suggests that you, who talk to him, should put yourselves in the shoes of the people he was with, he clearly tells you where he is coming from and what his ground rules are. On the one hand, the good things that he does… Edelman says: feelings is rubbish—you need to act, what you do matters. The ground rules of Edelman are the people who are no longer, and the reality which is, is if, non existent. But there are people who are at the rock bottom who have been deprived of everything. But Edelman remembers them; constantly thinks about those who are no longer here and those who have hit rock bottom. It gives him the power to live in the world filled with human evil and do good against all odds.
“Arguably, this is not a unique attitude, but, I think, it is a rare amalgam of an active man and a man in doubt over the human nature. A man who constantly helps others and yet who is in constant need of having someone to talk to, someone to confide in, someone to relay on. He is a man who speaks with a voice of a commander, yet who is very sensitive and fragile, attentive and always active. Edelman is as if made of contradictions. In a way he can be called the hero of the post-heroic era, which came about after the era of towering heroes at whom you looked from the bottom. They were towering over you, and it was a very oppressive sight. You were looking up to them and wanted to be like them one day. Such people like Marek Edelman are heroes of the post-historic era, who are level with you. They don’t tower over you head for they prefer to sit. Edelman is not a young man and he prefers sitting to minimize his breathing problems and so on. But sitting is also an important rule for him. Imagine that there the mother at Mamayev Hill Monument is sitting not standing. Just sitting. She is level with us—such a monument. So far the monuments in our country are towering over our heads. This speaks volumes about the style of life in Russia of the old days and today. In this light, I think, the case of Marek Edelman—that hero of the post-heroic era—is exceptionally important in, both, Russia and Poland, and even beyond—in Israel. I’m sure that the example of such heroism is what we very much need.