Simha Rotem (Kazik)
Simha Rotem (Kazik) is one of the last survivors of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
Kazik received his education in the Akiva youth movement. He was sixteen when nearly half a million Jews of Warsaw were interned in the ghetto. Thanks to his “Aryan” appearance, he managed to pass as a Polish youth and leave the ghetto.
In 1942, he joined the Jewish Fighting Organization and was one of the instigators of the Warsaw ghetto uprising that erupted on Passover Eve 1943. When the ghetto was torched, he crossed to the “Aryan” side and organized an operation in which the last of the fighters were extricated through sewage mains. His repeated displays of courage, quick thinking, and stunning self-confidence saved him and many of his comrades in arms.
As the torch is lit, let us remember the 50,000 Jews who, in April 1943, remained of the 450,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto—those who joined the resistance fighters, put up a struggle with the meager resources available to them, fortified themselves in the bunkers, and defended themselves courageously and doggedly for
nearly a month—until overwhelmed by sheer force.
Dina Firstenberg (Gilboa), born in Zaglębie, Poland, was a member of Hanoar Hazioni. Due to her “Aryan” appearance, she was tasked with various missions outside the ghetto. In May 1943, she was sent under a false identity to Kraków to explore the possibility of removing women members of the resistance to Germany in the guise of Polish workers.
She was extricated from the Great Aktion in 1943, in which, as the ghetto was being liquidated, 30,000 Jews including members of her family were placed aboard a transport to trablinka. Dina managed to slip across the border into Hungary, where she reunited with several dozen movement comrades who had sneaked across the Slovakian and Hungarian borders in a daring rescue operation. The group, nicknamedNasza Grupa, (“Our Group”), continue to operate in the underground in Hungary as well. In the course of this activity, Dina was arrested along with two of her comrades, Alex Gatmon and Emil Brigg.
The three of them underwent harsh interrogations including a staged execution. The resistance attempted to arrange their escape but failed; they were liberated in 1944 by the Red Army.
Dina is lighting the torch on behalf of the members of Nasza Grupa and her comrades in the resistance in Będzin and Sosnowiec.
Yehuda Maimon (Poldek)
Yehuda Maimon, born in Kraków, was a member of the Akiva movement.
After the first Aktion in Kraków, in which some 6,000 Jews were sent to the Bełżec extermination camp, he joined the Hehaluts Halohem resistance movement in the ghetto.
In December 1943, he took part in an underground attack on the Cyganeria Café, a meeting place for SS officers. The operation attained most of its goals; the place was blown up along with its customers, leaving dozens of Germans dead. In its aftermath, most members of the resistance group, including Poldek, were arrested. Poldek was interrogated, tortured, and sent to Auschwitz.
With the lighting of the torch, we are reminded of remarks by Dolek Libeskind, leader of the Akiva movement in the ghetto, at the last welcoming of the Sabbath that the movement members held in the ghetto: “We are fighting for three lines in history; that’s what our young people are fighting for….”
Rahel Davidor-Wladyslowski was born in the Kovno ghetto. She was delivered in hiding; after she grew up a little, she and her mother were smuggled out of the ghetto and concealed in various villages. Her father joined the partisans.
In her hideout, Rahel’s mother kept a diary that documented both the terror and the hope that she felt—“It pains me to think where my beloved Shloime’le is now. I also terribly miss my daughter, my dear Ruche’le, her blue eyes, and her sweet smile. Only God knows how hard it is for me, but even so one does not want to die. We can only hope that this suffering will end quickly, that my dear husband will return, and that we will be a happy family again.”
Rahel’s father died several days before the liberation. Rahel and her mother moved to Israel and placed the diary in the Massuah Archives for safekeeping.
Azriel Levi—a member of the Brit Zion organization and the Kovno ghetto resistance. In March 1944, several hours before the Aktion against the children and the elderly began, he was instructed to conceal the ghetto’s secret archives. One of the documents that Azriel and his comrades hid was a manuscript containing the ghetto chronicles. It began as follows: “For those of us who remain here in the ghetto, extermination and the danger of death hover over our heads like a spider’s web. If we survive, no one will believe us. They will deem it a fantasy or think that the troubles drove us insane. If we do not survive, this document may find its way into Jewish hands—be aware that what we are reporting here are, unfortunately, facts. Nothing is exaggerated; nothing is imagined.”
The clandestine archive and the manuscript were discovered only many years after the war.
Ari Livne was born in Vienna as Harry Lipa. After the Anschluss, his family fled to Belgium. When Brussels was occupied, they were forced to go into hiding, moving frequently from one attic to another. In early 1943, when he was almost eight years old, his parents, aided by the Belgian resistance, managed to find him a hideout with a Belgian woman in a suburb of Brussels.
There, Ari received the new identity of a Christian Belgian child. He had to cope on his own with learning French, mastering Christian customs, and dealing with collaborators and ordinary neighbors. He managed to fit into neighborhood life and was even admitted to the church choir. No one knew he was Jewish.
At the end of the war, Ari discovered that his parents had perished in Auschwitz.
In Israel, Ari Livne spent many years serving in the Prime Minister’s Office and on overseas missions.
His rescuer, Mrs. Angele Cloof-Meuldermans, was recognized as Righteous among the Nations.
Prof. Alexander Tamir-Wolkovsky
Prof. Alexander Tamir-Wolkovsky received an education in music at the conservatory of Vilna. Participating in a music competition in the ghetto at the age of eleven, Alexander Wolkovsky won the prize for composition for piano—the song Shtiler, Shtiler, Lemir Shvign (Quiet, Quiet, Be Silent, My Son), subsequently renamed “Ponar.”
The first stanza of the song was written by his father, a physician in the ghetto. After Alexander won the competition, the song was completed by the poet Shmaryahu Kaczerginski. Subsequently translated into Hebrew by Avraham Shlonsky, it became a preeminent symbol of Holocaust remembrance.
Subsequently, Alex Tamir joined up with the pianist Bracha Eden in what became one of the best-known duet performers in the world. Later on, they trained generations of young musicians at the music center that they established in Ein Karem, Jerusalem.
The eleven-year-old boy who composed the song “Ponar” in the Vilna ghetto became the dean of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.
President of the Israel Supreme Court (Ret.), Dorit Beinisch
The President of the Israel Supreme Court, Dorit Beinisch (now retired), began her public service in the Ministry of Justice, where she was the first woman to hold the very highest positions, the State Attorney above all. During her years service in these posts, she contended with issues and events that concerned the essence of Israel as a law-abiding democracy. During this time, her public image as a woman who does not compromise on her views took shape.
In 2006, she became the first woman in Israel to be named President of the Supreme Court; she held this office until her retirement in 2012.
Justice Beinisch is an emblem and a paragon of integrity, courage, and commitment to social values, totally devoted to the advancement of the values of the State of Israel.