Simcha Rotem, last survivor of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising who called out Polish president for denying Holocaust, dies at 94

Simcha Rotem, an Israeli Holocaust survivor who was among the last-known Jewish fighters from the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising against the Nazis, has died. He was 94.

Rotem, who died on Saturday after a long illness, helped save the last survivors of the uprising by smuggling them out of the burning ghetto through sewers. The Jewish fighters fought for nearly a month, fortifying themselves in bunkers and managing to kill 16 Nazis and wound nearly 100.

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After the war, Rotem immigrated to pre-state Israel and fought in its war of independence. He was later an active speaker and member of the Yad Vashem committee responsible for selecting the Righteous Among the Nations, non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

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Simcha Rotem roasted the Polish president earlier this year for remarks at a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the rebellion against the Nazis, held in Poland in April 2018.

President Duda used the occasion to continue flirting with Holocaust denial and supporting the government’s campaign to rewrite history and deny Poland’s active role in Nazi atrocities, saying that anyone who talks about Polish responsibility hurts Poles’ feelings.

“To the Honorable Andrzej Duda, President of Poland,

My name is Simcha (Kazik) Rotem, a proud Jew and one of the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, who survived the inferno and immigrated to the State of Israel that is celebrating its 70th anniversary.

I’ve read the speech you delivered last week at the ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

I became very frustrated, disappointed and even amazed by your systematic disregard of the fundamental difference between the suffering of the Polish nation after Poland was seized by Nazi Germany, which I do not disparage, and the methodical genocide of my brothers and sisters, Poland’s Jewish citizens, by the Nazi-German extermination machine, ignoring the fact this extermination machine had many Polish accomplices.

I don’t blame the Polish nation as a collective, and I’m well aware of the thousands of Poland’s Righteous Among the Nations in addition to the many other Poles whose actions to save Jews during the war have not been revealed.

I salute all these noble Poles and have enormous appreciation for them. However, Mr. President, the historical truth is that even those brave Poles, who jeopardized their lives and often their families to save Jews, had to hide from their Polish neighbors.

I, Simcha (Kazik) Rotem, who fought shoulder to shoulder with my brothers and sisters against the damned German Nazis on the streets and in the sewage systems of the Warsaw Ghetto, is telling you, Mr. President, that many of your people took a very active part in the murder of Jews in the Holocaust, expelling Jews from their homes in Poland while cruelly abusing them. They even murdered Jewish Poles who managed to escape the Nazi extermination machine and sought to regain their homes and property when the war ended.

Only once the Polish society truly faces the bitter historical truth, revealing its scope and severity, will there be a chance that those horrors will not be repeated. Therefore, I vehemently oppose the distorted law recently passed in Poland, meant to eradicate from historical recollection the heinous acts the Poles committed against the Jewish people during that dark time.

I also fiercely oppose your following remark, Mr. President, that you said during the ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: “I’m completely convinced that it is very important for the Poles, including the Jewish Poles, to have one historical truth.” This remark makes me seriously doubt this common “historical truth” for Jews and Poles that you so wish for.

Mr. President, I, Simcha (Kazik) Rotem, one of the fighters who survived the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, reiterate the fact Jews in Poland were victims of a systematic abominable murder committed by Nazi Germany, while Poland was occupied, but not in any way subjected to a methodical mass murder.

There is no basis to compare the two things, and no one has the right to ignore the atrocities committed by many Poles against the Jews.

Do you, the leader of the Polish nation, want to be an accomplice in transforming this unconceivable disregard into the “new historical truth” passed on from generation to generation?