Last Warsaw ghetto uprising survivor dies, 94

Last Warsaw ghetto uprising survivor dies, 94

The last survivor from the ill-fated 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising by Jewish partisans against the Nazi occupation has died in Israel aged 94.

Simcha Rotem, also known as Kazik, was a member of the Jewish Fighting Organisation (ZOB) that staged the revolt amid mass deportations to the death camps.

Rotem was 15 when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 and joined the ZOB in 1942, although he admitted that in the face of the Nazi might he “felt utterly helpless”.

“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. “What could we do with our pathetic, almost non-existent weaponry, when faced with the tremendous German firepower, with light cannons and tanks and armoured personnel carriers and a huge infantry force numbering hundreds, hundreds if not thousands…I felt utterly helpless.”

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

Jewish insurgents attacked on April 19, 1943, after choosing to die fighting rather than at the Treblinka death camp where the German invaders had already sent more than 300,000 Warsaw Jews.

By April 1943 most of the ghetto’s Jews were dead and about 50,000 were left with Rotem saying the fighters “choose the kind of death” they wanted.

Thousands of Jews died in Europe’s first urban anti-Nazi uprising with most of them burned alive. Nearly all of the rest were sent to Treblinka.

“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 in 2013. 

Rotem survived the uprising by escaping through the drains, guided by Polish sewerage workers.

He then fought in the 1944 Warsaw uprising led by the Polish resistance against the Nazis. 

The uprising was crushed by the Nazis after 63 days, as the advancing Red Army waited until it failed before taking Warsaw because Soviet dictator Josef Stalin did not want Polish rebels to establish a post-war administration. 

Rotem moved to Israel after the war, where he lived for the rest of his life.

He joined in efforts to hunt for Nazis after the war and worked in Israel until retiring in 1986.

In 2013, he was awarded the Polish Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta.

 

 

The Warsaw ghetto uprising. Picture credit: Wikimedia 

 

 

 

 

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