An article yesterday on ceremonies in Warsaw marking the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising said there would be no official representation from Israel, which has no diplomatic relations with Poland. Israel, however, is unofficially sending about 200 representatives, including Education Minister Zevulun Hammer and Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Laht.
When the phone rang last November and the question was put to him, Marek Edelman did not take long to answer.
Would he, as the last surviving leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, join a committee of notables for the 40th anniversary of that heroic event?
No, the 62-year-old former resistance fighter, now a cardiologist in Lodz, told the official caller. "Don't use me to cover your shame."
For two months after that, Edelman, who had been an activist in the now-outlawed independent union Solidarity, was approached by friends in the United States, Israel and Poland wanting to know his reasons for refusing. They sought advice on whether they should participate in the ceremonies this month marking the four-week losing battle by several hundred Jews against the Nazi state that was determined to exterminate them.
Finally, he issued the following statement:
"Forty years ago we did not fight merely to survive--we fought for life in dignity and freedom. To celebrate our anniversary here, where enslavement and humiliation are now the lot of the whole society, where words and gestures have become nothing but lies, would betray the spirit of our struggle.
"It would mean participating in something entirely to the contrary," Edelman went on. "It would be a cynical act of contempt. I shall not be a party to this, nor can I condone the participation of others, regardless of where they come from, whatever their credentials."
"The true memory of the victims and heroes, of the eternal human striving for truth and freedom," he concluded, "will be preserved in the silence of graves and of hearts--far from the manipulative ceremonies."
Edelman's statement contributed to the debate among Jews in the West over whether to participate in the commemoration.
But Polish organizations are going ahead with an elaborate anniversary celebration of the ghetto uprising--without Edelman, without the presence of a number of Jews who have decided against coming to Poland now, and without official representation from Israel, which was not invited because Poland has no diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
In a country where anti-Semitism has continued to be shamelessly exploited in recent years as a tool in Communist power struggles and intrigues, the celebration is an awkward gesture--but a politically convenient one for the government of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski.
It is the first big international event to be held in Poland since martial law was declared more than 15 months ago and thus offers a way out of the isolation imposed by western governments following the military crackdown.
Recalling the Nazi horror committed here also provides a timely vehicle for authorities to seek a new opening toward Jews, although officials have stopped short of making amends for Poland's postwar anti-Semitic acts.
Few practicing Jews remain in Poland, and whatever political fallout results from the celebration is more likely to land abroad and refurbish Poland's international image--or so officials seem to hope.
Organizers of the commemorative events, which begin next week, make a point of describing them as a private, not government-sponsored, affair. But Poland's Communist authorities are going to considerable lengths to associate themselves with the memorial activities.
After five years of planning, reconstruction of Warsaw's only remaining synagogue--which the Nazis used as a stable--is being rushed at a cost to the state of more than $1.8 million. The national museum plans an exhibition on 1,000 years of Polish Jewish culture. Interpress, an official state agency, recently published a glossy book on the same theme.
Generous coverage is being given in the officially controlled media to preparations for the anniversary, which will include ceremonies at the ghetto memorial and at Auschwitz, a symposium on Nazi genocide, and cultural events. The diary of Warsaw Ghetto chairman Adam Czerniakow, who committed suicide in 1942, is being serialized.
Also in connection with the anniversary, the Polish travel agency Orbis has been heavily advertising in the United States a package tour entitled the "grand Jewish pilgrimage." The ads carry the slogan, "because we will never forget."
"The Jewish case is always a political matter," said Edelman, a slim, trim man with penetrating, large, dark brown eyes. Normally reticent toward journalists, Edelman this year has agreed readily to grant interviews to counter his government's anniversary fanfare.
A Solidarity activist who was interned for six days at the start of martial law, Edelman will not admit to having experienced any official repercussions for his outspoken stand on the anniversary. But a close friend reported that shortly after he refused to serve on the honorary committee, Edelman was denied a passport for a Christmas visit to France where his wife and children live.
Whether to participate in the anniversary has stirred heated debate among western Jewish groups and individuals. Leading the opposition in the United States is the Jewish Labor Committee, a group said to reflect the traditional anticommunism of organized labor.
The Reagan administration is also accused by Polish officials of encouraging U.S. Jews not to participate.
"The fight is between those promoting Jewish politics and those pushing American politics," said Szymon Szurmiej, director of Warsaw's Jewish theater and a member of the anniversary organizing committee.
Szurmiej said some Jews in America and Western Europe who had intended to come for the anniversary have canceled in the face of an anti-Poland campaign that includes, he said, warnings of potential Arab terrorist attacks here during the memorial events.
Initial estimates of 5,000 to 10,000 foreign visitors attending the anniversary have been scaled back to 2,000, including 400 from the United States.
All major U.S. Jewish organizations are expected to send representatives. But in an effort to walk a line between being used politically and being accused of overlooking the anniversary, several groups including the American Jewish Committee are compromising by sending officials based in Europe.
The choice of whether to come is for many Jews a painful one, weighing the duty to honor the memory of those who paid with their lives here against current Polish and East-West politics.
"I'm coming here as a private citizen," explained Jack Eisner, founder of the U.S.-based Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization. Eisner was in Warsaw recently preparing for the filming this summer of his 1980 book "The Survivor" about his ghetto and concentration camp experiences.
"I want to participate because this is where it all happened."
But Ben Meed, a member of the same veterans' group, said he is staying home for this year's anniversary because "morally, I don't feel this is my place. I don't want to be part of a political event." His group voted overwhelmingly against sending an official representative to the Warsaw commemoration.
For those who do return to where the ghetto once stood, there is not much that recalls the scene of Nazi carnage. Today, it is a place of open spaces and plain apartment buildings crisscrossed by wide boulevards.
A dark stone monument depicting Jews in desperate battle stands in a park. Raised in 1948 amid the ghetto rubble, it is now covered with scaffolding for an anniversary face lifting.
On the outskirts of the old ghetto boundary stretches the Jewish cemetery, much of it in sorry condition, clogged with weeds and trees and crumbling gravestones. Because it abuts Warsaw's Christian graveyards, the Jewish burial ground served as a prime crossing point for smugglers, mostly children, who ran food and weapons into the ghetto.
Beginning in 1940, about half a million people were crowded into an area of little more than 2 1/2 square miles that was the ghetto. For two months in the summer of 1942, the Germans transported more than 300,000 Jews from Warsaw to Treblinka and other concentration camps in what was the first stage of the ghetto's liquidation.
Others died of disease and starvation in Warsaw. About 60,000 remained in the ghetto April 19, 1943, when German troops moved to finish the job by sending this last group to Treblinka in honor of Hitler's birthday the next day.
But the Nazis came up against armed resistance from the self-styled Jewish Combat Organization--a David-versus-Goliath force, Edelman recalled, of just 220 people at the start. Isolated behind a 10-foot-high brick wall, they fought alone for 28 days with rifles, pistols, a few machine guns, grenades and bottles filled with gasoline.
Fewer than 100 escaped the Germans. Edelman and about 40 others fled the area through sewers and were rescued in trucks commandeered by Polish partisans. The ghetto was demolished and burned to the ground by the Germans.
World War II virtually wiped out Poland's once thriving and vital Jewish community, but it did not eradicate anti-Semitism here.
In 1968 a nationalist political faction played openly on anti-Semitic sentiment, forcing 9,000 Jews from public life and many of the 30,000 Jews then in Poland out of the country.
The campaign was generally viewed as a smokescreen for a Communist power struggle. The target was party chief Wladyslaw Gomulka and the challenger, unsuccessful though brutal, was the then interior minister Mieczyslaw Moczar.
Anti-Zionist propaganda filled the official press during that period, finding support among groups dissatisfied with conditions in Poland. It was also accepted by many Poles who associated Jews with Russian Communism and with treachery to the cause of Polish independence. Jews had been among the main implementers of Stalinist policies in the Polish party and security police.
Again after August 1980 when the independent trade union Solidarity was founded, anti-Semitic slurs surfaced in the Polish media. Allusions appeared to the actual or alleged Jewish origins of some Committee for Social Self-Defense activists who became advisers to Solidarity leaders.
In March 1981 a demonstration was held in Warsaw commemorating Polish patriots who suffered at the hands of "the Zionist clique," a reference to the Jews who did Stalin's dirty work. Out of this rally grew an organization named the Grunwald Patriotic Union, a decidedly anti-Semitic group that was one of the few organizations never dissolved or suspended by Jaruzelski's martial-law government.
Polish officials dispute charges of anti-Semitism against their country going back to World War II. The Jewish Historical Institute here has amassed considerable evidence of assistance extended by Polish underground groups and Polish families to Jews during the war, although other historians have argued that Poles could have done more to help save Jews.
A more troubling reflection on current-day Poland is the fact that the events of 1968 have never been officially repudiated and the victims never given restitution.
Moczar was removed last month from his post as chairman of a government watchdog commission, ostensibly because of his age. He will be 70 in December. Last week he stepped down as well from the chairmanship of the Polish war veterans union. Some here saw these moves as a sop to Jews before the anniversary celebration, but this was never officially suggested.
In the Middle Ages Poland was home for much of world Jewry, and 44 years ago when the Germans marched in, the Jewish population numbered about 3.5 million. Today, according to the Social and Cultural Society of Jews in Poland, there are only about 12,000 to 15,000 here.
Most of the survivors of the Holocaust are now too old or infirm to emigrate. Many of their descendants strive for assimilation and do not admit to their Jewish origins. There are 16 kosher kitchens around the country but nothing that could be called a Jewish community in Poland.
The government finances the Jewish theater and historical institute. But there is no permanent rabbi to hold services, and efforts to find one for Warsaw's newly reconstructed orthodox synagogue have been unsuccessful.