1921, Ciechanów – 5 Jan 1945

NOTE: Much of this technical, dates and times information was gleaned from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia and most importantly the story came by my personal contact and interview with Sam Spitzer, and my relatives during a trip to Australia.

The family pictures at the Roza Robota gate were taken with Sam Spitzer and my brother Cye Jacobson. Cye's son is married to Sams granddaughter, friends called him "Poppy".  

I had the rare opportunity to spend quality time with Sam Spitzer and learn of this story, his incredible life of survival and involvement.  I realized how really important  their lives had been, unselfishly and totally devoted to saving others during the most of horrific times.

There were things he disclosed in the too few hours we spent together that went beyond any kind of conduct normal humans are capable of.  From the depths of depravity and torture to the courage of those who fought back, it has a scope too wide to imagine.

It was one of the most remarkable conversations I have ever had. I learned things about the resistance movement during WWII that didn't show on the History channel. I also learned more about the camps and the relentless brutality and inhumanity exhibited there.

(Referred to, variants of spelling in other sources as Rojza, Rozia, or Rosa), was the leader and one of four women hanged in the Auschwitz concentration camp for their role in the Sonderkommando revolt of 7 October 1944.

Born in Ciechanów, Poland, to a middle-class family, Roza had one brother and one sister. She was a member of Hashomer Hatzair Zionist-socialist youth movement, and joined that movement's underground upon the Nazi occupation. Roza often used her Hebrew name, "Shoshanah."

She was transported to Auschwitz in 1942, and was sent to Auschwitz-II, the adjacent Birkenau labor camp for women, where she was involved in the underground dissemination of news among the prisoners. 

No one else from her family in Europe is known to have survived. She worked in the clothing depot at the Birkenau Effektenlager adjacent to Crematorium III of Birkenau, where the bodies of gas chamber victims were burned. She had been recruited by men of the underground whom she knew from her hometown, to smuggle "schwartzpulver", a rapidly burning compound collected by women in the "Weichsel" munitions factory, transferring it to a Sonderkommando surnamed Wróbel,who was also active in the resistance. 

This "schwartzpulver" was used to manufacture primitive grenades and possibly to help blow up the crematorium during the Sonderkommando revolt. In her work she was assisted by Hadassa Zlotnicka and Asir-Godel Zilber, both also from Ciechanów, whom Robota apparently enlisted in the resistance. Together with a few other women who worked in the Nazi factory's "pulverraum," they were able to obtain, hide, and turn over to the men of the underground no more than one to three teaspoons of the "schwartzpulver" compound per day, and not every day. The Sonderkommando blew up Crematorium III on 6 October 1944.

Robota and three other women – Ala Gertner, Estusia Wajcblum, and Regina Safirsztajn – were arrested by the Gestapo and tortured in the infamous Bloc 23 but they refused to reveal the names of others who participated in the smuggling operation. 

They were hanged on 5 January 1945 – two women at the morning roll-call assembly, two others in the evening. Robota was 23 years old. According to some eyewitness accounts, she and her comrades shouted "Nekamah" ("Vengeance!"), or "Be Strong" to the assembled inmates before they died. Some say they shouted, "Chazak V'amatz" – "Be strong and have courage", the Biblical phrase that God uses to encourage Joshua after the death of Moses.

The Sonderkommando Revolt caused some 70 fatalities among the SS and kapos, and blew the roof off one crematorium, yet the Nazis knew the advancing Russian Army was very close to liberating the camp. It was clear to the Nazis that all evidence of the war-time atrocities had to be concealed, so the Germans attempted to destroy the other four crematoria themselves.

Roza Robota's memory lives on, in the naming of the Roza Robota Gates at Montefiore Randwick (Sydney, Australia). 

This initiative was made possible by Sam Spitzer, a resistance fighter during World War II and now a resident of Sydney. He named the gates in honor of his war-time hero, Robota, and his late wife, Margaret. Spitzer's sister was in Auschwitz with Robota.

At Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, a monument was built to honor Robota and the three other executed women. It stands in a prime location in the garden.

Samuel Spitzer (1922-2009)  “Poppy”
Excerpts from Rabbi Paul Jacobson, my nephew, eulogy for “Poppy”…  I remember pulling up alongside his apartment building.  He greeted me with a warm smile and a very strong handshake, introducing himself saying, “I am called Sam.”  And when I said, “Hello Sam.  My name is Paul, ” Lisa corrected me and said, “No, no, you don’t call him Sam.  You call him Poppy.  All of my friends always call him Poppy.”

I will say only that I learned early on that Poppy was a man of conviction, a crusader for what he thought was just and right.  The events of World War II were not history to Poppy; they were the moments of his life that scarred him, that tried his faith, and brought unspeakable anguish and torment to his soul and spirit. Try as he would throughout his long life, raging against and seeking to correct the injustices of the world, Poppy was never able to find healing for his wounds.

What we know about Poppy is that he was involved in the socialist underground movement, Ha-Shomer Ha-Tzair.  When the political party was banned, he was thrown in prison for two years.  During his imprisonment, Poppy recounts that he benefited from the mentorship of Stefan Dubchek, Slovakian politician Alexander Dubcek’s father.  

In August 1944, the Slovak national uprising, organized by communists, discovered that he was Jewish and relocated him to a concentration holding camp.   

Before he was sent to the concentration camp, he escaped into the mountains.  Poppy managed to arrange papers identifying him as non-Jewish.  He fought during the final months of World War II until Czechoslovakia was liberated in April 1945. 

An enormous turning point in Sam’s life occurred in 1942 when he was arrested as a political prisoner by the Slovak government of the time. In jail he spent many lengthy spells in solitary confinement as well as being experimented on with radium treatment. 

But what he managed to gain in that time was a development of friendship and mentorship with some of the great political characters of the time. Alexander Dubcheck (former president of Czechoslovakia) and his friendship with Alexander’s father Stefan who was a mentor to him during those 2 years in jail.

On his release from jail it was uncovered that he was Jewish and therefore he was sent straight to the camps in Sered. Amazingly he and some other young men managed to escape. They joined with the partisans up in the mountains where he continued to fight until well after the war ended and word finally came to them that it was over. 

He would often describe to us the fear and loneliness he felt on the mountain, coming across countless frozen bodies of families many he had known in his childhood.  

After immigration to Australia, he was involved in sports, feared by politicians and vested in real estate, he became a very successful businessman. 

If there was a cause he believed in or an injustice he was aware of he was relentless, never ceasing till he found justice. He did not care what others thought of him as he challenged Rabbis, communal leaders and organizations standing up the rights of others, especially those killed in WWII who were no longer here to speak up for themselves.

When he was young, he learned to live in a tough world, it made him tough,
and he never altered his principles, "Poppy" rest in peace, to this day
I enjoyed our intelligent conversation...