Warsaw insurgent of 1943 and 1944, Symcha Rotem passed away.
He was a Jewish resistance movement fighter in the course of the Second World War, a Warsaw Ghetto Uprising participant and a liaison officer of the Jewish Combat Organisation. He was one of the organisers of external assistance for the ghetto fighters.
Symcha Rotem was born on 10 February 1925 in Warsaw’s Czerniaków neighbourhood as Szymon Ratajzer, the oldest of four siblings. His mother, who was a proprietor of a soap shop, came from Mińskis, a Jewish family acculturated into the Polish society. The father came from a traditional Hasidic family and succeeded his father in the synagogue cantor position.
In September 1939, a bomb fell on the Podchorążych Street tenement the Ratajzer family lived in. There were five fatalities, one of Symcha’s brothers among them.
In 1940, the family was displaced to the ghetto, where Symcha Ratajzer joined the Jewish Combat Organisation (JCO) assuming the nom de guerre Kazik. Owing to his ‘proper’ looks, he was able to obtain documents which allowed him to venture out of the ghetto. When the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto broke out on 19 April 1943, Kazik fought in Henoch Gutman’s combat unit formed at the brush makers’ workshop on Świętojerska Street. He left the ghetto through the city’s sewage system mains on the night of April 29th, by the order of JCO. Having acted as the ghetto insurgents’ main liaison officer with the ‘Aryan side,’ at the fall of the uprising, Symcha was the one who organised a daring escape of 30 JCO combatants via the sewers of Warsaw.
“The memory of finding no one when I made my way back to the ghetto with the task of moving the JCO units out of there continues to haunt me: I imagined myself to be the last Jew in the ghetto. However, a few hours later a miracle happened; I stood surrounded by a group of fellow fighters. That miracle will not happen again today. I am one of the three insurgents alive. No longer with us is Marek Edelman, our guardian of remembrance, who stood in this place year after year for over 60 years. People are passing away. That is the way things are; what is important though is that the memory remain alive,” he said at the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
In 1944 Symcha took part in the Warsaw Uprising. After the war, he joined the Avengers, a clandestine Jewish organisation whose aim was the assassination of the SS-men then surrendering as prisoners of war. Kazik’s task was to poison those held in the POW camp of Dachau, but the poisonous substance failed to reach him. Shortly thereafter, he left for Palestine and took the surname of Rotem, the name of a tree that grows in the desert and under which the prophet Elias once sat. After the 1948 establishment of the State of Israel, he took part in the first Israeli-Arab war. Once demobilised, Symcha became a general construction contractor.
Decorated with the Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, Symcha Rotem also held Honorary Citizenship of Warsaw.
Symcha Rotem died at the age of 93 in Jerusalem.