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Last leader of Warsaw Jewish Ghetto Uprising dies at 87

The last living Jewish commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Marek Edelman lights a candle as he attends a ceremony to mark the 65th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Warsaw April 19, 2008. REUTERS/Tomasz Paczos/Forum

WARSAW (Reuters) - The last leader of the wartime Jewish uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland, Marek Edelman, died in Warsaw on Friday at the age of 87, friends said.

Edelman was the last surviving leader of small Jewish militant groups which fought against the Nazis in 1943 when the occupiers moved to liquidate the ghetto.

Jewish fighters were poorly armed and the uprising was crushed in a few weeks of fighting.

“It’s a very said day. He was a man of great character,” said Szewach Weiss, former Isreali ambassador to Poland.

Poland was home to the biggest Jewish population in Europe before 1939, but most of them perished in the Holocaust. The Warsaw ghetto was established in 1940 and nearly half a million people were forced to live there at some point.

Despite the anti-Semitic policies of Poland’s communist authorities after World War Two, Edelman never left his homeland. He worked as a cardiologist, married and had two children.

“I respect him mostly for the fact that he stayed in this land, which made him fight so hard for his Jewish and Polish identity,” said Catholic bishop, Tadeusz Pieronek. “He became a real witness, he was giving a real testimony with his life.”

Edelman later fought in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and was a member of the Solidarity trade union which helped topple communism in Poland in 1989.

Writing by Gabriela Baczynska