On the edge of life: Memories of an anarchist 1943-44 [Review]

In recent months there have been quite a good number of interesting publications connected with anarchism, in the broad sense. Among them are memories of Pawel Lew Marek, for which I waited with increasing interest and impatience for a long time. Those feelings were further increased after reading some fragments in issue no.21 of Inny Swiat.

In June 2006 the book was published. Finally! It was worth waiting for. The book is completely unique, as its publishers wrote. In fact I could finish this review of Pawel Lew Marek’s book at this point by stating that “it is advised that it is to be read by members of the present so called anarchist movement” in Poland. And that’s it. Full stop. 600 copies will allow it to be reached, with no problems, by all living anarchists between Bug and Odra (two Polish rivers- translators note). But to satisfy the needs of the Inny Swiat editorial team I will write about it a little bit more, although I will probably not be able to emphasize the privilege of this unique position.

The memories of P.L. Marek are an exhilarating and interesting read, however banal the title may sound (which reminds me of Memoirs of a revolutionary by P.Kropotkin. Which I highly recommend.) It is only a pity that author decided to describe only two years of his interesting life. But thanks to numerous appendices and notes created, thanks to the research (the time frame of which stretches before and beyond 1943-44,) the book is a must have! To every person interested in the history of anarchism on Polish lands, it is a real treasure chest of knowledge. From the shadows of (not so ancient) history and oblivion, emerges on its pages, the Anarchist Federation of Poland. An organisation so legendary and enigmatic, that it is almost unknown to anarchists of the present day, and historians of all kinds.

Since its creation in 1926, the Anarchist Federation of Poland has spread ideas of anarchy in Poland. The activity of its members allowed their ideas to survive through the hard years of the Nazi occupation and the beginnings of the Communist regime.

Heard of, and spoken of even less than the Anarchist Federation of Poland are the “Syndykalistyczna Organizacja Wolnosc” (S.O.W.: Syndicalist Organization for Freedom).

Active during World War II it was an organization that was made up mostly of anarcho-syndicalists, and a large majority of former AFP members. Now finally we can learn about some of these people, not only their names and surnames and achievements.

The author begins his memories in July 1943. Those that are alive are seen armed in solidarity and mutual aid, trying to defeat the horrors of the Nazi occupation. “On the edge of life” is also a testimony of a small fragment of the Polish Jews’ tragedy during the war. Pawel Lew Marek apart from being an anarchist was also a Jew. For the Nazis this was a crime in itself and the only punishment for such a crime, according to them, was death! In the difficult and tedious daily struggle for survival the author of these memories had two things on his side, a group of comrades and good people, and his “Aryan” looks. As a result he managed to find shelter and a job as a caretaker in a school, where after some time he started skilfully propagating ideas of anarchism and syndicalism among the youth.

This book about the times of WW II, when our comrades from SOW lived and were active, gives a positive example that even under difficult or extreme conditions everything is possible and emphasizes that solidarity and mutual aid when kept alive, can create miracles. As one of the heroes of “Memories”, Karol Swierczynski says “There must be a will and aim and then you will also find possibilities.” It is worth thinking about and remembering in some years.

Lots of joy, (if I can call it that) was caused by the part of the book about the Warsaw Uprising [1944]. For Pawel Lew Marek the two months of Uprising were times of freedom and possibilities of meeting with his wife, who also had to hide because of her nationality. The description of their meeting is one of the most moving and heart-warming parts of the book. It is very interesting that, in August, Karolina Marek took part in the Uprising in the ranks of National Armed Forces (NSZ: right wing underground unit) and it was only after passing through the sewers from the Old City to Central Town that she joined the Syndicalist Brigade. The participation of this unit in the Warsaw Uprising is one of many “blank pages” of history. Half a century had to pass for us to learn what happened with anarchists and syndicalists during the hot summer of ‘44. An excellent read by one of the co-founders of the Syndicalist Brigade, Syndicalist Insurgent Cooperation SPP ([AKA Syndicalist Uprising Platform] uniting Association of Polish Syndicalists and SOW) and editor of Syndicalist (main paper of the SPP).

I would like to add that this book is not addressed only to anarchists, although it is for them especially, because it lets us learn how and with what our comrades lived a few dozen years ago in Poland, and what their problems, ideas and dilemmas were.

On the pages of Inny Swiat I would like to thank Michal Przyborowski, Lukasz Dabrowski and Rafal Gorski for publishing it. Anarchy will never forget you!

Admiral. Trans S.

[For more on by Pawel Lew Marek and extracts from On the Edge of Life: Memories of An Anarchist 1943-44 see KSL Bulletin 50-51. See also “Black-Red Company in Warsaw Uprising (1944) against Nazi Occupation” in Abolishing the Borders from Below, #31 (February 2008).]

From: Inny Swiat #24..