JERUSALEM – Simba Rotem, an Israeli Holocaust survivor who was one of the last known Jewish fighters from the USA In 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against the Nazis died. He was 94 years old.
Rotem, known by the subway nickname "Kazik", participated in the largest single action of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. Although it was guaranteed to fail, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising symbolized the refusal to succumb to Nazi atrocities and encouraged other resistance campaigns by Jews and non-Jews.
Red, who died Saturday after a long illness, helped save the last survivors of the uprising by smuggling them out of the burning ghetto through sewage tunnels. The Jewish fighters fought for almost a month, building themselves up in bunkers, killing 16 Nazis and wounding nearly 100.
"This is the loss of a special character, as Kazik was literally a real fighter," said Avner Shalev, chairman of the Holocaust memorial of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. "The challenge for all of us now is to make sense of memory without model personalities like Kazik."
Rotem was born in Warsaw in 1924, when his living Jewish community made up a third of the city's population. After the outbreak of the Second World War, he was wounded in a German bomb attack that destroyed his family's house. His brother and five other close relatives were killed. Shortly thereafter, the city's Jews were driven into the infamous ghetto.
The ghetto initially contained about 380,000 Jews crammed into cramped living quarters, housing about half a million people. Life in the ghetto involved arbitrary raids, seizures and abductions by Nazi soldiers. Illness and hunger were widespread and often appeared on the streets.
The resistance movement began to grow after the deportation on July 22, 1942, when 265,000 men, women, and children were rounded up in the death camp of Treblinka and later murdered. As the news spread of the Nazi genocide, those who remained behind no longer believed in German promises to be sent to forced labor camps.
A small group of rebels spread demands for resistance and carried out isolated acts of sabotage and assault. Some Jews opposed German orders to report for deportation.
The Nazis invaded the ghetto on April 19, 1943, the eve of the Passover. Three days later, the Nazis burned the ghetto and turned it into a fiery death trap, but the Jewish fighters held their fight for almost a month before being brutally defeated.
Teenager Rotem served as a liaison between the bunkers and participated in the fighting before arranging for the escape of the few who were not up to date with Resistance Chief Mordechai Anielewicz at the command bunker on Mila Street 18.
The Nazis and their collaborators ultimately killed 6 million Jews The Allied victory in World War II ended the Holocaust.
After the war, Red emigrated to pre-state Israel and fought in his Revolutionary War. Later, he was an active orator and member of the Yad Vashem committee responsible for selecting the righteous among the peoples, non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. In 2013, on the 70th anniversary of the uprising, he was honored by Poland for his role in the war.
"Kazik fought the Nazis, rescued Jews, emigrated to Israel after the Holocaust, and told thousands of men the story of his Israeli heroism," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "His story and the story of the uprising will be with our people forever."
Red is survived by his two children and five grandchildren.
With his death, only one survivor of the survival of the Warsaw Ghetto remained in Israel – Aliza Vitis-Shomron, 89 years old. Her main task was to distribute leaflets in the ghetto before she was asked to flee and told the world about the heroic battle of the Jews.