More than 200 people gathered at Kibbutz Harel in in central Israel on Monday to attend the funeral of Simha (Kazik) Rotem, the last surviving member of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. Rotem died Saturday at the age of 94.
Among the attendees were members of his family and friends, staff from the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, a special Polish delegation, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, and MKs Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin, Revital Swid and Eitan Broshi.
"All your life you were a humble, confident man with a sense of humor. We remember our walks together, and the family trips around the country. You have lived a life full of substance and curiosity. Rest in peace, our beloved father and hero," Rotem's son, Itai, said as he eulogized his father.
"Kazik, today you become a hero who will live forever in the memory of the Jewish people. The last surviving member of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto Uprising, you are a hero and national symbol. You will always be remembered—an Israeli, a Jew, a hero, a man," Bennett said.
Historian Dr. Yitzhak Arad, a former director of Yad Vashem and a Holocaust survivor, eulogized his friend: "Kazik, I came to say goodbye and salute you, the last surviving member of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto Uprising. I salute you for being one of the boldest and most prominent ghetto fighters. Knowing that there will be no victory, you and your friends fought till the end. You have shown the world that Jews can fight, and when necessary, die valiantly. You survived and witnessed Germany's surrender."
Rotem was 15 years old when the WWII broke out. When the Nazis established the Warsaw ghetto, his parents sent him to live with relatives. In 1942, at the age of 18, he returned to Warsaw and became an active member of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto Uprising against the Nazis.
Speaking at a 2013 ceremony in Poland to mark the 70th anniversary of the uprising, Rotem recalled that by April 1943 most of the ghetto's Jews had died and the 50,000 who remained expected the same fate.
Rotem said he and his comrades launched the uprising to "choose the kind of death" they wanted. "But to this very day I keep thinking whether we had the right to make the decision to start the uprising and by the same token to shorten the lives of many people by a week, a day or two," Rotem said.
Thousands of Jews died in Europe's first urban anti-Nazi revolt, most of them burned alive, and nearly all the rest were then sent to Treblinka extermination camp. Rotem survived by masterminding an escape through the drain system with dozens of comrades. Polish sewer workers guided them to the surface.
After the war, Rotem immigrated to Israel and got married. His wife, Gina, died two years ago. He is survived by two children and five grandchildren.