Simha Rotem (Ratheiser), known as "Kazik," was born in 1924 in Warsaw, Poland. He was the eldest of four children in the family. When Kazik was twelve, he joined a Zionist Youth Movement called "Hanoar Hazioni". When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, Kazik lost his brother Israel and an additional five family members with the destruction of their house in German aerial bombing. Kazik himself was injured in the attack. Shortly after the Jews were imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto, Kazik’s parents sent him to family relatives in a village called Klwów, near Radom, where he remained for three months. In 1942, he returned to the Ghetto and joined up with the Jewish Fighting Organization, the ZOB. During the Ghetto Uprising in 1943, he served as a liaison between the bunkers in the Warsaw Ghetto and contacts outside of the ghetto. At the end of the uprising he was in charge of leading the remaining ghetto fighters out of the ghetto via the sewers and was thus responsible for saving them. He organized hiding places for them in the forests and in the city until the end of the war. Kazik took part in the Polish uprising in 1944 and in January 1945, he was sent to Lublin to make contact with the Polish Government in Exile. On his way to Lublin, he met Russian soldiers and thus he knew that he was now in an area that had just been liberated from Nazi control. He also participated in organizing the Beriha. In 1946, Kazik immigrated to Israel in the wave of illegal immigration and was interned by the British in the Atlit Detention Camp.
Thereafter, he joined the Hagana and fought in the War of Independence. After the establishment of the State, Kazik served in various capacities as a State envoy.
He is married to Gina, neé Olmer, and they have two sons and five grandchildren. In 1984, he published his memoirs as Memoirs of a Warsaw Ghetto Fighter. Since 1963, Kazik has been active on the committee at Yad Vashem which deals with recognizing Righteous Among the Nations. In 2010, the Government of Poland erected a monument over the manhole at (51 Prosta Street) from where Kazik emerged from the sewers with the fighters he had led out of the ghetto.
The following are remarks taken from interviews and lectures given by Kazik over the years
- See the article in this newsletter on armed resistance in the Krakow Ghetto for more on the Akiba youth movement.
- The second fighting organization in the Warsaw ghetto, the ZZW or Jewish Fighting Union, was comprised of members of Betar, another of the youth movements, as well as Revisionists.
- Kazik found out only later that there were people still remaining in the sewer, who were waiting in a side tributary of the sewer where the water level was lower.