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Marek Edelman: God is Asleep

Witold Bereś

H 17 Bog spi

Marek Edelman: God is Asleep (the last conversations with Witold Bereś and Krzysztof Burnetko), Świat Ksiązki, Warsaw 2010

It is a record of the conversations that Wotold Bereś and Krzysztof Burnetko held with Marek Edelman as they worked on the movie Commander Edelman directed by Artur Więcek Baron. The book has a form of Ten Commandments interspersed with interviews from Marek Edelman (who was an atheist), and stories referring to him and the Decalogue written by others including Szewach Weiss, Tadeusz Sławek, Jarosław Makowski, Konstanty Gebert, Stanisław Krajewski, Krystyna Zachwatowicz, Magdalena Środa, Leopold Unger, Joanna Tokarska-Bakir, Rev. Andrzej Luter, Wisława Szymborska and Krzysztof Piesiewicz.


“It is a farewell to the last commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, who passed away in 2009, and who was an extraordinary man, marvellous and beautiful. Marek Edelman was an extraordinary man but a difficult one to talk with, often arrogant, of which the two journalists learned more than well enough. Edelman would yell at them that they did not understand a thing he said, that they were ‘stupid’ and reasoned like ‘spinsters’. Edelman would answer some questions reluctantly and would often get annoyed especially when the questions touched upon the Decalogue. Edelman was deeply unreligious and regarded Ten Commandements as an artificial creation of man. He did not need religion for anything as he valued much higher life, freedom, and had a principle to take the side of the oppressed at all times. This was his way when he thought in the ghetto, or as cardiologist after the war, and as a member of the anticommunist opposition.

The record of the conversations between Edelman and Bereś and Burnetko is supplemented with reminiscences of Edelman written by some of his friends after his passing. Joanna Tokarska-Bakir calls Edelman ‘a typical Polish saint who commanded love and fear’ and who ‘sometimes was a monster as monstrous as a disillusioned man can be’.

This farewell book may be also interpreted as Edelman’s testament, yet it isn’t certain that he would wish for that at all”.

Grzegorz Kozera, internet culture saloon




And God spoke all those words and said:

I am your God who has led you from Egypt, the home of slavery.

The Bible/ the Gdańsk Edition/The Book of Exodus 20


When we take our seats in front of such a man as Marek Edelman—a declared atheist, yet beyond doubt a a role model for many people, including believers—a question pops up: Can the Ten Commandments relate to those who cast away this God? Do they impact the morals of the followers of other faiths—and especially atheists—and if so, to what degree? Do honest atheists need God? But the questions are not exclusively about atheists. Along with them similar dilemas are shared by sceptics, those who search for God, those who face the challenges of their own faith, and even strong believers who can ask themselves difficult questions.

Do the contemporary men of the Western civilization has room for the Decalogue?

Spring 2007. Marek Edelman meets a group of students from Edyta Stein Catholic School in Gliwice. This is a part of a program, devised by the schoolmaster Jacek Szyndler, through which students meet extraordinary individuals. A new generation of students meets Edelman every year. They take their seats where they can—on chairs, Edelman’s bed, on the floor. One of the students, apparently anxious, asks Edelman:

“Do you believe in God?”

Edelman, who is 89, answers:

“Leave him alone. He is asleep.”


“The most important question is: What is the most important for you?

“I’ve seen this sentence someplace: The most important is life, and when there’s life, the most important is freedom. And then you give your life for your freedom and it isn’t clear what is more important. That’s it. Great. Something like that. And that’s how it’s been for years.

It’s been printed someplace so don’t repeat it. I don’t remember it word-for-word, but the way I said it is nice. Always, no matter who the oppressed are, you have to be on their side…

Well done, wasn’t it? What? You don’t like it?