Simcha (Szymon) Rathajzer
24 February 1924
|Died||22 December 2018 (aged 94)|
|Known for||Member of the Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa (Jewish Combat Organization), participant in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Warsaw Uprising|
Simcha Rotem (born Simcha (Szymon) Rathajzer, also known by his nom de guerre, Kazik; 24 February 1924 – 22 December 2018) was a Polish-Israeli veteran, who was a member of the Jewish underground in Warsaw, and served as the head courier of the Jewish Fighting Organization (ŻOB), which planned and executed the Warsaw ghetto uprising against the Nazis. He was one of the last two surviving Jewish fighters in the Warsaw uprising and the last surviving fighter from the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising.
The Second World War
As World War II broke out, Rotem was injured in a German bombing campaign which struck his family home. His brother and several members of his family were killed.
The Warsaw ghetto
In 1942 he joined the Jewish Fighting Organization (ŻOB). Rotem became particularly useful as a courier for the Warsaw Ghetto fighters. The nickname "Kazik"—an abbreviation of a Polish name "Kazimierz" (Casimir), which means in Polish "someone who destroys opponent's prestige/glory during battle".
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and aftermath
As a ŻOB member, Kazik took part in the Warsaw ghetto uprising. He became the head courier, reporting directly to the ŻOB commander on the Gentile side, Yitzhak Zuckerman. The ŻOB commander in general was Mordechai Anielewicz. When it became apparent that the Germans would prevail, he was sent via a secret passageway to the Gentile side of Warsaw where he met with Zuckerman to arrange an escape for the fighters. However, the passageway was discovered by the Nazis. Unable to return, he and Zuckerman were trapped on the Gentile side while the fighting raged and the ghetto burned. Desperate to reach his comrades, Rotem made several attempts to enter the ghetto through the sewers before finally succeeding. There he encountered Zivia Lubetkin, one of the last surviving leaders of the ghetto uprising, and he led her with her team of approximately 80 fighters through the sewers to the Gentile side and then to the forests outside of the city. Throughout the rest of the war he continued his underground activities with the resistance, in particular helping to care for the several thousand Jews, who still remained in Warsaw in hiding. In August 1944, he took part in the Polish Warsaw Uprising.
Immediately following the end of World War II, Rotem took part in the Beriha organization, that helped European Jews immigrate to Mandate Palestine, despite the restrictions imposed by the British Mandatory policies (White Paper of 1939). Although his twelve-year-old sister was murdered in the ghetto uprising, his parents and another sister survived in hiding and, in 1947, he and the surviving members of his family immigrated to Mandate Palestine. He lived in Jerusalem. As of 2018, the year of his death, he was one of two survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. At the time of his death, he was the last surviving fighter of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
In April 2018 Rotem castigated Polish president Andrzej Duda, writing: "I became very frustrated, disappointed and even amazed by your systematic disregard of the fundamental difference between the suffering of the Polish nation after Poland was seized by Nazi Germany, which I do not disparage, and the methodical genocide of my brothers and sisters, Poland's Jewish citizens, by the Nazi-German extermination machine, ignoring the fact this extermination machine had many Polish accomplices." And "Only once the Polish society truly faces the bitter historical truth, revealing its scope and severity, will there be a chance that those horrors will not be repeated. Therefore, I vehemently oppose the distorted law recently passed in Poland, meant to eradicate from historical recollection the heinous acts the Poles committed against the Jewish people during that dark time."
Awards and decorations
- Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (2013)
- Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland (2003)
- Gold Polish Army Medal (2013)
- Rotem, Simhah. Memoirs of a Warsaw Ghetto Fighter: The Past within Me. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994 (English translation). 2002 edition: ISBN 978-0-300-09376-6.
- Associated Press (23 December 2018). "Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Fighter Simcha Rotem Dies at 94". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
- "Oral history interview with Simcha Rotem - Collections Search - United States Holocaust Memorial Museum". collections.ushmm.org. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
- "Simcha Rotem, last surviving fighter in Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, dies at 94". The Times of Israel. 22 December 2018. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
- Tzur, Nissan (21 April 2013). "Ghetto Fighter: We Wanted to Choose How We Would Die". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 4 March 2016.
- Heller, Aron (11 April 2018). "As their numbers dwindle, Jews who fought Nazis recall the struggle". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
- Alon, Amir (22 December 2018). "Warsaw ghetto uprising's last fighter passes away at age 94". Ynetnews. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
- "Last Warsaw Ghetto Uprising fighter dies". Deutsche Welle. 23 December 2018. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
- Reiniger, Franziska. "Jewish Resistance and Uprisings - Teaching through Films". Yad Vashem. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
- Eichner, Itamar; Tvizer, Inbar (23 December 2018). "When Simcha Rotem schooled the Polish president on the Holocaust". Ynetnews. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
- "Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: Last surviving fighter, Simcha Rotem, dies at 94". BBC News. 22 December 2018. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Simcha Rotem.|
- "Moje miejsce między trupami" "My Place Among the Dead", "Gazeta Wyborcza", 14–15 July 2007. (Polish)