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Memoirs of a Warsaw Ghetto Fighter

Memoirs of a Warsaw Ghetto Fighter

Simha Rotem
Translated from the Hebrew and edited by Barbara Harshav
Copyright Date: 1994
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 196
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  • Book Info
    Memoirs of a Warsaw Ghetto Fighter
    Book Description:

    "In the first three days [of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising], the Germans didn't take a single Jew out of the buildings. After their attempts to penetrate the Ghetto had failed, they decided to spare themselves casualties by destroying it from outside with cannon and aerial bombings. A few days later the Ghetto was totally destroyed. . . . The 'streets' were nothing but rows of smoldering ruins. It was hard to cross them without stepping on charred bodies."-KazikWhen the Nazis decided to liquidate the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943, five hundred young Jewish fighters within the Ghetto rose up to defy them. With no weapons, no influence, and no experience in warfare, they managed to resist the Germans for almost a month. In the end, when the battle was lost, the surviving Jews were led out of the ruins through the sewers by a nineteen-year-old fighter known as Kazik. As head courier of the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB), which had planned and executed the uprising, Kazik spent the rest of the war helping to care for the several thousand Jews who still remained in Warsaw. This book-an extraordinary story of courage and perseverance-is Kazik's wartime memoir.In stark, spare detail, Kazik reports on the efforts to prepare for the defense of the Warsaw Ghetto, the calamitous battle with the Germans, and the rescue of the few Jews who were still alive after the Ghetto was destroyed. He describes how he assumed a false Aryan identity in order to pass through the city as he collected money and found hiding places for the survivors. Constantly on guard, fearful of informers, his life always in danger, he nevertheless plotted resourcefully to aid his fellow Jews. He tells how he joined the Poles during their ill-fated uprising against the Nazis in Warsaw in 1944, had further brushes with death assisting the Polish underground, and returned to Warsaw to watch its liberation by the Russian army.Suspenseful, moving, and remarkably heroic, Kazik's memoir is only the second source to be published on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It will help demolish the image of Jews as submissive victims in the Holocaust.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15051-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-x)
    Barbara Harshav

    In September 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland and started World War II, there were some 360,000 Jews in Warsaw, about 30 percent of the total population of the capital. The interwar period had been marked by an increase in political activity among Jews, resulting in a proliferation of parties and movements, ranging from assimilationists to Zionists (of various kinds) to socialists (of various stripes) to the entire gamut of religious orthodoxy; and the capital with its large Jewish population naturally became the center for these groups. In addition, Warsaw spawned an active Jewish cultural life, comprising schools, theaters, journalism,...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  6. 1 Before: Son of a Warsaw Family
    (pp. 1-21)

    Both sides of my family are Warsaw Jews. I was born in Czerniaków, a suburb of Warsaw, and spent my childhood there. My mother’s parents, Grandfather Yakov Minski and Grandmother Sara (née Poznanski), also lived in Czerniaków with their four daughters and their families. When they all assembled, there was quite a tumult.

    My parents were Miriam and Zvi Ratheiser. I was the oldest of four children. Israel, Dina, and Raya came after me. Only two of us survived the war—my sister Raya, who also lives in Israel, and I.

    In my childhood I was close to each of...

  7. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  8. 2 In the Ranks of the ZOB
    (pp. 22-42)

    The Zionist youth movement I belonged to split and I remained a member of the faction that joined Akiba. Our members were scattered among the various fighting groups; we didn’t have an exclusive group of our own, as did Dror, Ha-Shomer Ha-Tza’ir, Gordonia, and other factions in the ZOB.²¹ I myself was never really much of a movement person. I was stuck with the name Akiba since everybody in the ZOB took the name of his movement as part of his own, as if it were another last name.

    My first contact with the ZOB was my errand to the...

  9. 3 To the Sewers: Rescue of the Remnant
    (pp. 43-58)

    Despite these failures, the command staff decided to send Zygmunt Fryderych, a Bundist, and me to make another attempt to contact our companions on the Aryan side.39We used the tunnel dug by the Jewish Military Union (the Revisionists), which we had discovered on one of our expeditions to seek a way out of the Ghetto.⁴⁰ Before the uprising the local commanders of the two organizations had made contact to coordinate future operations. During the uprising we heard that there had been a fierce battle between the Revisionist Military Union and the Germans and that the Jewish fighters had decided...

  10. 4 On the Aryan Side
    (pp. 59-72)

    Lomianki is the name of a small town and a forest, called Puszcza Kampinowska in Polish. In mid-May 1943, comrades who had come out of the Ghetto in the early days of the uprising were hiding there. We knew it wasn’t an ideal hiding place, but we didn’t have anything better. My efforts were now devoted mainly to seeking another hiding place for the fighters, and soon afterward they were moved, some to forests around Wyszków, others to clandestine apartments in and around Warsaw. I also tended to those who came out of the Ghetto hungry, almost naked, and in...

  11. 5 Clandestine Apartments
    (pp. 73-111)

    The apartment at Komitetowa Street 4 had once belonged to one Jewish family and was now inhabited by another. The supposed tenant went by the name of Stasia Kopik and lived with her three daughters and the husband of one of the daughters. When she rented the apartment, Stasia introduced herself to the landlord and the porter as the wife of a Polish officer who had been taken prisoner. She was blond and spoke perfect Polish. So did her daughter Zosia, who also looked like a Gentile.⁶⁰ The other members of the family lived in hiding there: in one of...

  12. 6 Underground Operations
    (pp. 112-117)

    Luba, known as “Green Marysia,” longed to get involved in underground work. We had grave reservations about using people who served as a cover for other comrades. If Luba were to be caught, the apartment registered in her name would be “burned” and those hiding in it would become prey for the Gestapo. However, Luba and Irka wanted to take part in ZOB activities. There were only a few of us, it was too hard for us to perform all the missions, and here were two pretty girls who looked “good” and wanted to act. So from time to time...

  13. 7 The Polish Uprising
    (pp. 118-134)

    On my return to Warsaw, I found myself near the impressive courthouse between Ogrodowa and Leszno streets, where all the courts of the capital had been concentrated in 1939. The street looked different: you didn’t see housewives carrying shopping bags or officials rushing to work; and you could feel something in the air, a tension steeped in exaltation. I saw a group of real fighters holding weapons—not in uniform but wearing armbands—approach in what looked like battle formation. After so many years, to see Poles holding weapons in broad daylight! At that moment, I blurted out a juicy...

  14. 8 The ZOB Back in Action
    (pp. 135-142)

    We were taken to a camp populated by several thousand Warsaw residents, who had been taken out of their homes and sent there at the height of the uprising. Acquaintances we encountered in the camp gave us a picture of the German procedure: young people were sent to forced labor in Germany; old people, women, and children were released.

    I don’t remember how long I was in Pruszków. One morning we were ordered to line up for classification. Hundreds of human beings had to parade in front of German officers, who decided whom to release and whom to send to...

  15. 9 Conclusions: Mission to Lublin
    (pp. 143-154)

    This was about the end of December 1944, or perhaps the beginning of January 1945. Contact between the ZOB and the AL was reestablished, and Irka and I were assigned to try to get through to Lublin, where the Provisional Polish Government was already in operation.⁸⁵ In mid-January 1945 we set out for Pjaseczno, which, according to our information, was close to the front. When we got to the town, we tried to explore the area and to collect vital information about the Russians’ location. It took two or three days to carry out this complicated mission. We decided to...

  16. Appendix: Journal of a Fighter
    (pp. 155-170)
  17. References
    (pp. 171-172)
  18. Index
    (pp. 173-180)