Simcha Rotem, the last remaining survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, has died this week at the age of 94.
Known as Kazik, Roten was part of a group of Jewish partisan fighters who mounted an insurrection against Nazi occupiers in 1943 after they began deporting Jewish residents of Warsaw to concentration camps. The Nazis were able to quash the uprising and killed and captured most of the Jewish fighters, but Rotem is credited with helping dozens of rebel fighters escape, the BBC reported.
Though Nazis were able to overtake the Jewish fighters, the operation was considered successful in helping the larger fight against Nazi occupiers. The Jewish fighters battled Nazis for nearly a month, delaying deportations and forcing Nazis to redeploy resources to put down the resistance. The group was able to hold their positions in heavily fortified bunkers and killed 16 Nazi soldiers while wounding nearly 100, the Guardian reported.
Simcha Rotem was credited with helping scores of Jewish fighters escape, helping them move through the city’s drainage system. Rotem was also able to escape the Warsaw Ghetto but returned in 1944 for another Warsaw Uprising led by Polish resistance forces.
Later, Rotem said he felt conflicted about his role in helping to lead the uprising, knowing it led to the death of the majority of those involved.
“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,” he said in a 2013 interview (via the BBC).
As the BBC noted, Rotem died in Jerusalem on Saturday after battling a long illness and was honored by Jewish leaders across the world.
“Thank you for everything, Kazik,” said Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. “We promise to try every day to be deserving of the description ‘human.’ “
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: Last surviving fighter, Simcha Rotem, dies at 94 https://t.co/Osud9R3v7p— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) December 22, 2018
Others mourned the loss of final surviving members of the Warsaw Uprising. The number of Holocaust survivors has dwindled as many reach their late 80s and 90s.
“This is a loss of a special character since Kazik was a real fighter, in the true sense of the word,” Avner Shalev, the chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, told the Guardian. “The challenge for all of us now is to continue giving meaning to remembrance without exemplary figures like Kazik.”
Simcha Rotem moved to Israel, where he worked until retiring in 1986.