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You Talk Plainly When You Are In The Know

Witold Bereś

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Marek Edelman, You Talk Plainly When You Are In The Know (edited by Paula Sawicka and Krzysztof Burnetko) Świat Książki, Warsaw 2013

“Collected from scattered texts and spoken records […] emerged a biography, an appeal to the world and the testament of Marek Edelman,” is how an acclaimed Polish writer Jacek Bocheński described the book. Indeed, its nearly 600 pages contain Edelman’s thoughts on not only the obvious topics, such as the Holocaust, the World War Two, and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but olso on ethics, medicine, Poland’s modern history and the state the world. Along with articles by Edelman (some of which appear in print for the fist time), the book contains records of Edelman remarks he made at public meetings, interviews for domestic and international media, as well as various open letters and appeals of which he was a signatory.

What is significant about the book is that the material published in it covers some half-century-long time span, from 1944 right after the war until Edelman’s passing in 2009. In this time Edelman remains true to his convictions and values, yet he is a realist with in-depth and clear understanding of the world. He is capable of altering his views as he learns new facts or sees new circumstances.

An important supplement to the main body of the book are the descriptions of the circumstances in which the texts were written. The book also carriers many facsimiles of Edelman’s correspondence and handwritten documents, and many never-before-published photographs. The section includes the story, in Edelman handwrite, of the stamp of the Jewish Combat Organization. There are also pictures documenting Edelman pioneering surgeries, official anniversary celebrations of the Jewish Ghetto Uprising in Warsaw; Edelman visiting his friends in Israel; the humanitarian aid convoy on its way to the besieged Sarajevo; and Edelman meeting Dalai Lama and Vaclav Havel.


The book is dominated by the great message of life: What happened in the 20th century may happen again, and indeed, it does time and time again on a smaller scale in different forms and different places the world over. However, “the evil may grow” if the world forgets, overlooks, underestimates, and consents. And the world is susceptible to it. Let it take action before it is too late—is the unstoppable cry of those who spoke plainly for they were in the know.

(Jacek Bocheński, Open Republic



The Holocaust was not just the annihilation of six million people. It was a defeat of  the European civilization. Let’s take a look at the contemporary Europe and the Europe before Nazism and Stalinism. (…) Let’s take a look at the entire literature and the arts. The works of writers and artists are the most sensitive indicator of human feelings and the condition of humanity. In the past, the art, painting, talked to the man, influenced him, gave him the joy of life. Then we etered the age of abstractionism with its lack of form and shape. Everything is blurred. Painting deformed the man. The great painter Salvadore Dali made this great painting ‘Hunger’. It shows not only a deformed man, but a scorn for the man, scorn for the weak. (…) Similarly in literature. Today’s trend in literature is to show protagonists who are trapped, in a labyrinth from which they can’t find a way out. (…) Culture, filled with death and nothingness, seeks only silence and emptiness.


Did the Americans or the British—the  only great powers then—care for a city or a nation during the World War Two? No. Germany was to be destroyed for it jeopardized American and British interests. That’s why nobody cared that the Jews were being murdered. The Allies did not even want to air-raid Auschwitz for it was too far away. No one was sentimental. The Second World War was about interests too: German, American, British. The Americans maintained their companies in Germany throughout the war…