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Kazik Ratajzer: A Hero in the Shadow

Witold Bereś

H 10 Kazik

Witold Bereś and Krzysztof Burnetko, Kazik Ratajzer: A Hero in the Shadow, Świat Książki, Warsaw 2012


The story of Kazik Ratajzer vel Simha Rotem is a narrative about Poland and Israel, and above all, about people’s choices and the impact of the stroke of luck on their lives; about heroism and remorse and absurdities of war and the role of politics in it; about the power of friendship; and, after all, of love.

Ratajzer was a Jew born in Warsaw’s district of Czerniaków before the war. When he was 17 years old he joned the underground resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto. When, in April 1943, an uprising breaks out, he joined the battle and later he sneaked out to the Aryan side on a mission to prepare an evacuation of the fighters who remain in the Ghetto. Practically, he worked on his own and in a daring way led some 40 fighters through the sewers out of the Ghetto and saved their lives.  In August 1944 Ratajzer joined the uprising in Warsaw. After the war he met a group of holocaust survivors who were determined to take revenge on Germans. Their action failed, fortunately, as Ratajzer later admitted. He then left for the Palestine and took part in  the wars that the young state of Israel waged on its neighboring countries to survive. He became member of the Yad Vashem Council for he wanted to honor those Polish friends who had helped him during the occupation.



The book is a one of the most extraordinary biographies in the world. It is a biography which makes you think that it is worthwhile to be brave and honset, to believe in friendship, to stand for the weak, and that, beyond any doubt, you must not let others subdue you. (…)

A movie based on Kazik Ratajzer life would be a thriller filled with unbelievable action which  in fact did happen. It is most fortunate, therefore, that two Cracow-based authors, Bereś and Burnetko, took to writing the story of that Warsaw Jew, set in Warsaw and Jerusalem.

Contrary to what Bereś and Burnetko suggest, however, for me Kazik Ratajzer is not “a hero in the shadow,” just because he did not stepped forward to receive medals. His biography is one of the most important biographies of the Polish-Jewish world, and maybe even such a universal biography that may be apprehended the world over.

Paweł Smoleński, Gazeta Wyborcza, April, 19, 2012


Evening. Late April 1943. The ghetto in Warsaw. The uprising, which was doomed to failure from the very beginning,  is slowly fading. The sound of flames consuming buildings fills the silence. The scent of burning bodies. Suddenly, a hatch to an underground bunker opens. Inside, fighters hide. They are on the verge of death. A man stick his head out and carefully looks around. This is the protagonist of our story, Kazik Ratajzer.  He leaves for his night patrol.

The Germans are out of the ghetto at this time of night. Their tactic is to burn down the city—block by block—at daytime. At nightfall they withdraw to the so-called Aryan side. So the streets are empty with piles of corpses here and there which were assembled by Jewish prisoners (temporarily alive) working in penal brigades. The bodies are stripped naked—it is taken for granted that the German economy would not waste anything, not even some bloodstained rugs.

Ratajzer passes by one such pile when he hears a baby cry. He stops and listens. The sounds comes from a pile of corpses nearby. He approaches it and, atop of it, he sees the naked body of a young women with her arms frozen in a protective embrace around a baby who is several months old. It is her baby. The woman’s body has a hole in the back but the bullet did not go through and the baby is alive. The baby cries stretching his hands to the stranger. Ratajzer looks at the baby for a moment, and then goes away.

After a while he hears nothing.


Fall 2009. An Arab restaurant in the Jerusalem’s Old Town. Right by Via Dolorosa. Our protagonist looks us straight into the eye:

“Do you judge me?”