This photo is famous and still very painful to look at. It is the front page of the autobiography written by Alina Margolis Edelmann, recently translated to Norwegian by Ingunn. She was also close to Alina.
The below photo is a very special and unique one. My Polish friend Michal Szymanczak made it a few years ago on April 19 in Warsaw, just in front of the monument of the heroes of the uprising against Nazis in the Jewish ghetto, which started on April 19, 1943.
This famous and very tragic uprising was the unbelieveable act of military resistance of Polish Jews who decided to die with the guns in their hands – instead of the death in gas chambers in Treblinka. Each year in Warsaw on April 19 people are paying homage to the heroes of the uprising and all victims of the Holocaust – all of them with yellow flowers in their hands.
On the photo you can see two persons, both of them already passed away. The man with the cigarette is Marek Edelman, commander-in-chief of the uprising in the ghetto in Warsaw in 1943. He was one of the few fighters who survived. In his life following the war he became a famous professor of cardiology and one of the moral authorities of our contemporary world.
The woman in the front is Alina Margolis-Edelman, wife of Marek and – I can say it with pride – the friend of Ingunn and myself. And the friend of YMCA.
Alina was in the ghetto in Warsaw as well, being the student in nursery school. She survived the extermination of Jews hidden on ‘Aryan’ side of the town. As a young woman in 1944 she was fighting as soldier against Nazis, she got the Cross of the Brave, she personally saved the life of Marek, her future husband, evacuating him on the hand-barrow from the ruins of Warsaw.
I have this privilege that I met Alina and I got to know her well and the story of her life. We were together in Poland and in France, in Czech Republic, in Macedonia and in Armenia. We talked a lot, we discussed, we ate and drunk together, we enjoyed museums and had holidays together. We never prayed together.
Alina and me in Yerevan, Armenia, in 1996, just before we both spoke at the conference about Genocide and Dignity. When Alina spoke, TV cameras were on, and flash followed flash, she was the celebrity. When I came to the podium, TV cameras were taken down and no flash went off. Alina could not care less about celebrity status. It meant absolutely nothing to her. But very famous people lined up to get an appointment with her. She often turned them down and spent time with ordinary people, like us in the YMCA.
After the war, Alina became a doctor, a paediatrician. From 1970 she was living and working in France and she was one of the leaders of the famous humanitarian organizations like Medecins sans Frontier and Medecins du Monde. With both organizations she was helping people everywhere in the world – the ‘boat people’ in the Chinese Sea, victims of the wars in Salvador and Thad, victims of rapes in Bosnia, drug addicts and street kids in St. Petersburg, Russia, abused children in Poland where she founded the Nobody’s Children Foundation, now perhaps the biggest NGO of its kind in the whole of Central-Eastern Europe.
In her busy life she found time for the YMCA. She was an impressive keynote speaker during one of the General Assemblies of the European Alliance of YMCAs, criticizing that the YMCA did not have enough focus on weak and excluded in everyday YMCA work. In Yerevan, Armenia, during the out-standing event co-organized by the YMCA on the topic of Genocide, she was talking about the dignity of the victims of Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide. One of the most inspiring and brave speeches I have ever heard. Just there, in Erevan, in the front of the Genocide museum Alina for the first time asked me with trembling voice: Where was your God, Johan, where was He? Alina was not a believer, she was a secular Jew. She wanted to believe, but she could not. Her life had been so full of cruel experiences that faith had disappeared. But she was reaching out to me for an answer. Almost desperately, this was for her an existential question.
Two years ago, together with Misha Guskov and Michal, friends of mine and friends of Alina, we walked kilometres through a rainy Paris to visit the ecumenical graveyard in Bagneux. On her grave we put flowers and candles.
And just there I saw the inscription on her grave: Pediatre du Monde. Yes, she was the Paediatrician of the World. All those weak and wounded around the whole world were her children who needed help. And today, on April 19, 2013, on the day of the 70th anniversary of the famous uprising in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, I think about Alina and pray for all the victims of wars, discrimination and poverty everywhere in the world – in the Middle East and Africa, in Americas and Asia, in Europe and Australia/Oceania.
Till the end of my days I will remember the trembling voice of Alina: Where was your God, Johan, where was He?