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April 19, 2013 6:00 pm

Poland Marks 70th Anniversary of Warsaw Uprising by Honoring Veteran of the Fight

avatar by Zach Pontz

Simcha Rotem. Photo: Wikipedia.

Friday was the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and to commemorate the event the city will open its new Museum of the History of Polish Jews to document 1,000 years of Jewish life that was all but wiped out during the Holocaust.

The guest of honor at the inauguration will be Simcha Rotem, who at 89 is the only former member of the Jewish Combat Organisation (Å»OB) still in good enough health to make the trip. Codenamed “Kazik” during the uprising, Rotem survived the month-long battle by masterminding an escape through the drain system with dozens of comrades. Polish sewer workers aided in the escape.

“Because what is a pistol or a rifle or a grenade when faced with the German army that conquered all of Europe?” Rotem told the news agency AFP.

“As for me, I wanted to choose a nicer, more decent death than at the gas chambers.”

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The Economist spoke to Rotem in Israel last month and he said he remembers the event quite vividly. “It is not the sort of thing a person could forget,” he told his interviewer. And time hasn’t softened Rotem’s views of this would-be killers “I regret in a way that we didn’t get revenge on the SS. Because they were not conscripts, they chose to do what they did. So they were murderers. And murderers should be hanged. They were not people, but animals walking upright.”

Ninety percent of Poland’s 3.3 million pre-war Jews were wiped out by 1945. A census conducted in 2011 showed that only 7,500 Jews live in Poland. Estimates of the number of Poles with Jewish origins are put at 50,000.

According to Deutsche Welle, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski will also lead a ceremony at Warsaw’s Monument to the Ghetto Heroes. Dignitaries expected include European Parliament President Martin Schulz of Germany and Israeli Education Minister Shai Piron. From the monument the ceremony will proceed towards the Umschlagplatz, a location where Nazi troops rounded up Jews before sending them to the Treblinka death camp.

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