Ghetto fighter: We wanted to choose how we would die

One of last three survivors of Ghetto uprising Simcha Rotem speaks at 70th anniversary of historic rebellion in Warsaw.

Warsaw museum 370 (photo credit: The Museum of the History of Polish Jews)
Warsaw museum 370
(photo credit: The Museum of the History of Polish Jews)
WARSAW – “We knew the end would be the same for everyone. The idea for the uprising came from our determination. We wanted to choose the kind of death we would die, that’s all.” With these words Simcha Rotem, 88, one of the last three survivors of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, described the impetus behind launching an offensive against the Nazis on April 19th 1943 that had no chance of succeeding.
Polish, European and Israeli officials, together with Holocaust survivors who arrived in Poland from all over the world, attended on Friday the event commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Sirens and church bells opened the main memorial event in the Polish capital in front of the Monument to the Ghetto Uprising Heroes.
The Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Israeli Education Minister Shai Piron were among the hundreds of guests who came to pay tribute to the victims of the uprising.
Rotem said also that “no words can describe what the Holocaust and the uprising was like and what the bestiality of the Germans was like, but despite their cruelty they did not break the moral of the Jewish people.” He also added that “to this day I have doubts as to whether we had the right to carry out the uprising and shorten the lives of people by a day, a week, or two weeks.”
Komorowski said during the ceremony that “the Nazis had made the ghetto a hell on earth and the uprising has become a reference point in the struggle for human dignity. This was the last stand of people deprived of dignity and hope, and it was here in Poland that Polish Jews took up this struggle for human dignity.”
He added also that “there are no other European capitals like Warsaw, which became an island of ruins during the war.
Jews and Polish resistance fighters fought side by side, flag next to flag. We should remember this in order to promote Polish – Jewish and Polish – Israeli relations.” Komoworski later awarded Rotem with one of Poland’s highest honors, The Grand Cross of the Order of the Rebirth of Poland.
The Israeli Education Minister, Shai Piron, said in his speech that “Since the Babylonian exile there was no place which created such a great Jewish spiritual and intellectual center. Six million were murdered in the Holocaust, including a half million children. I ask you for one moment to imagine how this square in front of us would look like if they were still with us. Polish Jewry was varied, it included religious, secular, Communists, Zionists, anti-Zionists and more, but for the Nazis they were all Jews. Just close your eyes and think about intellectual breakthroughs, great rabbis, musicians and artists who could stand here with us if this unspeakable tragedy had not occurred.”
Piron also added: “I came here from Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, as the minister of education to declare our commitment to keep the great spirit of the rebels: war without compromise against evil, with a deep commitment to human dignity and peace.”
Piron referred in his speech to the righteous among the nations. “In the great darkness that descended on Europe they were glowing like candles in the dark and protected honor and human dignity. They showed all of us that you can stand up to evil even if sometimes you pay with your life,” he said.
Hundreds of volunteers delivered thousands of yellow paper daffodils to passersby on the streets of Warsaw. The daffodils, which bloom in April, symbolize the Jewish uprising against the Nazis. Piotr Kossobuzdki, the spokesman for the new museum also said, “We decided to deliver the yellow daffodil because it was the favorite flower of Marek Edelman, one of the most famous leaders of the Warsaw ghetto uprising and we wanted to pay tribute to Edelman.” Edelman became the leader of the uprising after Mordechai Anielewicz was killed. He died in 2009.
The new 13,000 square-meter Museum of the History of Polish Jews held on Friday its unofficial opening ceremony to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The museum, designed by the famous Finnish architect Rainer Mahlamaki, will display in the nearest months several temporary exhibitions and hold educational activities, mostly for young from around the world. The official opening ceremony of the museum, with the permanent exhibition that will present 1,000 years of Jewish life in Poland, is scheduled for the beginning of the next year. The management of the museum expects around a half million visitors a year.