WWII Warsaw Uprising Fighter Simcha Rotem, Passes at 94

 In History

We’ve written about many of the WWII heroes of America. Men of what we term the “Greatest Generation” because of their willingness and determination to fight for their country. But there were Jewish heroes too, men who fought the Nazis in the streets of Warsaw, Poland – once such man was Simcha Rotem, also known as Kazik Ratajzer. He died on Saturday in Jerusalem.

The Jews of Europe were unarmed and outnumbered,  millions died in the concentration camps of the Nazis. But some Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto teamed up with Polish resistance fighters and took the fight to the streets with limited weapons and ammunition. They called it the Warsaw Uprising.

4 men behind a barricade during the Warsaw Uprising

Early in the war, bombs destroyed Simcha’s home, killing several members of his family. He and his mother were wounded.

The Times of Israel reported

In April 1943 the Nazis began efforts to empty the Ghetto of its remaining occupants, leading to the outbreak of combat, with Rotem fighting under one of the leaders, Marek Edelman.

The insurgents preferred to die fighting instead of in a gas chamber at the Treblinka death camp where the Nazis had already sent more than 300,000 Warsaw Jews.

Speaking at a 2013 ceremony in Poland to mark the 70th anniversary of the uprising, Rotem recalled that by April 1943 most of the ghetto’s Jews had died and the 50,000 who remained expected the same fate.

Rotem said he and his comrades launched the uprising to “choose the kind of death” they wanted.

“But to this very day I keep thinking whether we had the right to make the decision to start the uprising and by the same token to shorten the lives of many people by a week, a day or two,” Rotem said.

“At the first moment when I saw the great German force entering the Ghetto, my first reaction, and I’m sure not just mine — I felt we were nothing,” Rotem recalled in a testimony to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum. “What could we do with our pathetic, almost non-existent weaponry, when faced with the tremendous German firepower, with light canons and tanks and armored personnel carriers and a huge infantry force numbering hundreds, hundreds if not thousands…I felt utterly helpless.”

But that feeling was followed by “an extraordinary sense of spiritual uplifting…this was the moment we had been waiting for…to stand up to this all-powerful German.”

Jews rounded up at the Warsaw Ghetto after the Uprising

The Nazis ultimately crushed the uprising, sending thousands to their deaths at Treblinka. Though the Red Army was closing in on the city, they nothing to help.  Stalin knew of the plight of the partisan fighters likely because he wanted Warsaw for himself. When he did drop “supplies” they fell into German hands. Both Roosevelt and Churchill appealed to him, but it was to no avail.

Simcha survived. He also assisted “scores” of fighters through the drainage system to the freedom of the woods outside of the city.

Simcha received one of Poland’s highest honors in 2013, the Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, for his actions during the war.

“Kazik fought the Nazis, saved Jews, made aliyah after the Holocaust, and told the story of his heroism to thousands of Israelis. His story and the story of the uprising will forever be with our people.” Benjamin Netanyahu, Dec 22, 2018

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