Co-ordinator of the book
Translated by Libby Raichman
With honor, with dignity, and with the greatest respect, we dedicate these words to the heroic Mala Hartman, a daughter of our small town, who has recorded a heroic page in the accursed historic stain, known as Oshvi'entzim  Auschwitz.
Mala Hartman was born in Briegl, raised in the typical Chassidic Hartman family, that shaped her outlook and Jewish character, and served her during her developing years.
At this time, when we remember the extraordinary, beautiful Mala, a calamity occurred in the Hartman family: the father of the family, of blessed memory, lost 90% of his sight. Naturally, the whole family was deeply affected by this occurrence. The family then moved to Belgium. Mala's friend from Auschwitz (Mrs. Weissblum of Ramat-Gan), who does a lot to eternalize Mala's memory, relates that here in Belgium, Mala joined the General-Zionist Youth Organization The Zionist Youth. Before the Hitler war, she was one of its most active members. When the war broke out, she found her way to the Belgian Underground Organization, and when she was caught by the Germans, she was sent to Auschwitz.
But also here, in the accursed camp, that remains a mark of shame on the conscience of mankind, Mala managed to win, to a certain extent, the trust of the Germans, a trust that she used to connect with the Polish Underground Organization in the camp. She paid for her heroism with her life.
A sincere thanks to you, Mr. Mordechai Friedman, for translating material about Mala, from Polish to Yiddish. These were printed in the Zeshiti Oshvi'entzimske (Auschwitz journals) that are housed in the Document Archive in Haifa. And a sincere thanks to you Mr. Brenner, for your amendments to the Yiddish text.
by Giza Weissblum
Translated by Libby Raichman
Mala Tzimmetbaum was born in 1919 in the town of Bzshesko, in Poland. From there her parents immigrated to Antwerp, in Belgium, where she received her education. While still quite young, she discontinued her studies because her father had become blind, and began to work, to help support her family. She was a very devoted daughter, and the most loved of all the five children in her family.
Mala was a member of the Zionist youth movement, and there too, she was admired.
This is what Mr. Wiener Manturfn, a member of the same movement, writes about her:
Mala was naturally intelligent, independent and had initiative her sense of moral responsibility and self-sacrifice were exemplary. The Second World War broke out. Belgium was conquered in 1940, and, as in all the other occupied countries, the Germans immediately began to impose anti-Jewish laws: compulsory registration, yellow patches, curfew, property theft, and finally deportation. Initially these were carried out under the guise of helping the German war effort that manifested in the dispatch of the youth to labor camps. With the assistance of the Judenrat, people were summoned to attend medical examinations, and were threatened that their entire families would be sent to Germany instead of them, if they did not appear of their own good will.
The youth, in their desire to save their families from deportation, surged in their masses to the registration offices. All those who were registered for work, assembled afterwards in the Maline Camp - army barracks situated between Antwerp and Brussels; from there they were sent to Charleville a labor camp in France, not far from the Belgian border, where they worked at digging fortifications. Not terrible they wrote from there it is bearable.
After a short time, this camp was liquidated and they began to send people to Germany, more precisely, eastwards to the occupied countries.
And then panic set in. Indeed, we did not know about the extermination camps, and we thought that the news that reached us from Poland about the cruelty of the Germans there, were exaggerations; but the thought of travelling to an unknown distant place, with just a little baggage of a few kilograms, frightened the people, and they began to speculate the meaning of all this. There were even those who tried to evade this duty and did not appear at the registration offices. Frantic discussions and consultations erupted: what is preferable? Should we travel, to save our families from deportation? Or perhaps to hide together with them? How, where? And if so how will we survive? Searches began for secret apartments. There was also the problem of flaring tempers; but the responsibility of making such a burdensome decision, was solved by the Germans: they surrounded areas populated by Jews, scoured house after house, and removed not only the youth, but whole families with their children, and even the elderly and the sick, and they were not able to escape. All of them, every one, was taken to work to help the Nazi war effort …
This comprehensive round-up that came as a surprise, and whose organization was kept a complete secret until the moment of its implementation, struck us all with shock and despair. We were helpless …
In truth, already then, Belgian underground organizations existed, to which many Jews also belonged. They did much to save Jews: they saw to providing hiding places, forged documents, and helped to provide sustenance for families in hiding; but they were unable to assist everyone. In addition, the Belgian population was divided, particularly around Antwerp, as they were influenced by Nazi antiSemitic propaganda - and many collaborated with the Germans and assisted them in their mission by informing against Jews and coveting their possessions. Hunting for Jews was conducted in public places, in the streets of the city, and on trains.
And this was how Mala was caught, in the first round-up, at a train station, when she was about to travel home from one of the villages in the vicinity of Brussels, where she tried to secure a secret apartment for her family.
Together with many others, she was brought to Maline, where all the detainees were concentrated. From there they were sent on transports towards Germany, each transport with 1000 to 2000 people.
Mala had already prepared herself to escape from there. Her plan was ready, and even a date was set; however, the Germans brought forward the date that had been set previously, and the transport was sent earlier this is how they always operated, utilizing various strategies to confuse the people and Mala's plan was not carried out.
A postcard that we received from Mala after some time, is still preserved in my memory: I am well and working. Don't worry about me…. This is how the Germans forced the detainees to write home in order to calm their
in Briegl on Thursday the 9th Kislev, 1919.
Issued by Tikvat Tzion in Briegl.
The fast of Gedaliah, 1978.
In the picture from right: Yehoshua Shnur, Rabbi Yosef Landau, Gad Buchman.
spirits, but Mala dared to add: all the others, are with our sister Esther.
Esther had died before the war, but we did not understand properly. We thought that the conditions were difficult, and the work, exhausting, and that weak adults were not able to survive, but that young people, like Mala, would persevere.
In 1943, I was forced to discontinue my activities with the partisan organization to which I belonged. After savage torture, I was also sent as a Jewess, to the assembly camp at Maline. After being there for a short time, we were put into tightly sealed cattle cars, about one hundred to a car, without water, and without the possibility of seeing to our toileting needs.
That is how we travelled men, women, and children, crammed unimaginably, in the severe heat of the month of July. Some failed attempts at escape, only increased the guard over us. On the third day of indescribable suffering, the train stopped: - Auschwitz
They took us out of the cattle cars. Men and women were separated, and we went through our first sorting selection.
Strong, young women were put into rows for marching; women with children, the sick, and the weak were taken to trucks that were already waiting for them. Although we were surprised at their concern for the weak, after the terrible conditions that we had experienced until then, there was however, no time to think much everything was conducted at great speed: Run! Run! Faster! These were words that accompanied us throughout our suffering.
We had not managed to recover, and we were already walking in groups of five, in the direction of the camp, accompanied by armed S.S. guards. We were not permitted to take our packages you will receive them later, they said. We walked in a completely deserted area. Only here and there, groups of people could be seen working under the surveillance of armed S.S. guards, and in the midst of the wire fences that stretched to infinity, were forlorn houses. At one end, a few large buildings appeared with tall chimneys emitting thick smoke, and … what a strange smell? They are burning rags presumed some; others dared to have a word with their S.S. escorts, who explained to them not impolitely, that the buildings with the chimneys are factories, in which we would also work.
And here the entrance to the camp. We were shocked at the sign that screamed at us from the wire fence: stop, high voltage!.
Edek, dressed in S.S. clothing, stood ready to lead us. He was hidden in a potato-bunker, not far from the headquarters. At a sign from his friends, he came out of there cautiously, at the same moment as Mala came out of the headquarters. They walked in the direction of the agricultural camp Buda, that was situated a few kilometers from Birkenau. Mala walks in front with a heavy burden on her head. Edek walks behind her. This is what the S.S. were accustomed to do, when they led detainees to work outside the camp. They were not free yet. They would still meet S.S. guards on their way, but they knew that most of the new guards that had arrived, had just come from the battlefront for respite in Auschwitz and did not yet recognize the entire team guarding the camp, that numbered about 3000 men.
When they would succeed in passing through camp Buda, Mala would remove the sink on her head, and the men's clothing that she wore. Edek would remain in uniform. He would pose as an S.S. person on weekend leave, going out to spend time in the town, with his partner.
With bated breath, we watch her closely, until they both disappear from sight. With strongly beating hearts, we await the evening roll-call, hoping that by the time their escape is discovered, Mala and Edek would be in a safe haven far away.
At 5pm, toward evening, the orchestra is playing next to the gate. The workers, escorted by the armed guards and their dogs, are returning from their exhausting work. Roll-call counting one is missing! They are being counted
again, and again they are irritated shouting, cursing, beating! The number does not correspond. Someone is missing. It is dark by the time they discover that Mala is the one who is missing. It is not possible - claims the supervisor to Dreksler, the commanding officer Mala is missing? She did not escape! We treated her with great mercy; she was not short of anything. I do not believe it! Search well, for her! perhaps she has been left lying somewhere, unconscious. She is suffering from malaria. Those in charge are searching, the supervisor herself, is running around, looking in every hole, and in every ditch in the camp before she goes to inform at headquarters one is missing Mala Tzimmetbaum!!!. There is a commotion, the siren is activated to summon all the guards in the vicinity. One of the commanding officers travelled on a motorcycle to the main camp, Auschwitz, to inform them personally of the escape. The head supervisor of the women's camp, Mandel, reprimands the supervisor, the commanding officer Dreksler, and accuses her of giving Mala unlimited freedom of movement. Mala knows all the secrets of the camp. She has something to tell. She must be caught at all costs! All the stations of the Gestapo and the Gendarmerie in all the towns surrounding the camp, are telephoned.
The camp of the detainees is celebrating the joy of Mala's escape. Mala was the first Jewess that succeeded in escaping. All the detainees knew her. They all believed, with complete faith, that Mala will do her utmost, and will bring help from outside.
The siren could be heard again, loudly and threateningly, because someone was also missing from the men's camp Edek Galinski.
Rumors abounded that Mala and Edek have connections with the partisans, also, that Mala secretly removed the most recent lists from the office, regarding transports of Hungarian Jews that received special treatment, and that Mala therefore, had evidence of this shocking information.
The three couriers, friends of Mala, were taken to the political unit and accused of providing assistance to Mala. They investigated them, flogged them but Sala, Herta and Leah were silent. They did not know a thing. Their privileged jobs were withdrawn, and they were sent to the penal unit.
Two weeks passed. The detainees, in their constant struggle with the danger of death, forgot the joy and the hope that they felt when Mala escaped. We, a small group who knew and helped Mala with her daring plan, thought that she was already far away, perhaps in Switzerland, the destination that she hoped to reach.
Mala was a special human being, in the true sense of the word. It was not easy to be human in Birkenau, in the hell that the Nazis created. Already at the entrance they promised us: from here you leave only through the chimney. Can one be human in the hell that the Nazis beasts created, in the terrible conditions in which the soul dies before hunger eats the body, when man becomes a number, and all that remains for him, is the instinct to stay alive? to live! another day, another hour, at any cost! To remain human in Birkenau that is heroic.
May 1944. The building of the section of the railway line leading from the train station in Auschwitz directly to Birkenau, was completed. It passed alongside our camp and ended with three platforms in a normal train station. There was no longer a need to transport the victims in trucks. They descended from the rail cars, about 300 meters in front of the crematoria, that at first glance, looked like bakeries. From now, everything happened overtly, before our eyes. Day and night transports arrived from Hungary. The people who were crammed into the cattle cars were unloaded, and 95% of them were led straight to the gas chambers. The crematoria burnt non-stop. Pillars of fire poured out of the chimneys. The camp was immersed in a thick smoke that smelled of charred meat that made breathing difficult. This was Operation Hess at its peak. The crematoria were unable to keep pace with the speed of the transports. Orders were given to dig pits to burn the corpses in bonfires. Even that was not sufficient. People stood in long lines, waiting hours, and even whole days for their turn to the bath house they were told. We knew why they were waiting but we were separated by an electrified wire fence; we were forbidden to approach them. We were unable to reveal to them, even with a hint, where they were being taken. And how would it help them? They were surrounded by a dense chain of S.S. guards with their dogs, heavily armed with automatic machine guns that were cocked and ready to open fire, at any moment.
Mala was in a shack next to the wire fence, a few steps from the path that led to the crematoria. From the other side of the thin walls, she heard the voices of people conversing among themselves as they innocently awaited their turn, the cries of children, the barking of the dogs of the S.S., the outcry of those being beaten, and sometimes gunshots.
To hear and to see all this close up to see our own end we thought, and they reminded us every day that they will destroy all the eye-witnesses. What was the point of continuing to struggle for one additional day of life? Vanish? To simply vanish without a trace?! We were helpless.
Mala did not want to accept this cruel fate.
At night, when she unable sleep, the idea was born: to escape, to alert the world and to talk about this shocking event, about this satanic invention of a master race. We think that the world does not know, we are sure that if it was known ….
To escape from Birkenau? Poles from the vicinity who had relatives and friends outside the camp, sometimes tried. Despite this, only a few succeeded…. But a Jew? And if he did succeed in escaping from the strict guard, where would he go? Who would help him? But this thought did not leave Mala and did not give her peace. She searched for ways and connections to carry out an escape.
Once, she told me about a daring plan of a young Pole Edek Galinski. He was one of the veterans of the camp. His number, 531. He arrived with the first transport of Poles political detainees. He was one of those who built the camp, and he knew every corner of the enormous, combined Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Edek was a plumber and through his work he met workers who were citizens, who performed all kinds of tasks that the Germans would not dare to leave in the hands of the detainees, for fear of sabotage. Through these workers, Edek had connections outside of the camp. He sometimes worked in the women's camp. He knew Mala, who was known for her readiness to help everyone. He turned to her. Mala said that his plan was exceptional. He obtained S.S. uniforms, and dressed in this way, he planned to leave the camp and take a friend with him. The plan needed a permit - a document that allows
a detainee to work outside the camp. Mala was able to steal this type of document from the foreman of the block from the headquarters. As a courier, Mala had free access to her and was prepared to do this, but she proposed to Edek that he take her out of the camp too.
Edek agreed, but his friend was afraid to flee with a female, even more so a Jewess. Negotiations continued for some time, but finally the friend conceded, and Edek decided to take Mala out, in place of his friend he was enthusiastic about Mala's idea to call the world to action. They arranged all the details of the plan and considered all the possibilities. They decided to go on the Sabbath because by the time they would be discovered on the Sunday, some of the S.S. guards would be on leave, and the security would be somewhat lax.
Mala was to wear the work clothes of a man, and as a privileged detainee, was permitted to plait her hair and hide it under her detainee's cap on her head. In addition to this, she was to carry a wash basin on her head, to hide her feminine facial features. Mala revealed her plan to her close friends, the three couriers, who, like her, were housed in the same shack. They promised to assist her. Everything was ready, the date was set.
The 24th of June. On that day, Mala put on a corset, in which she hid a change of clothes: undergarments, and a dress, without the red stripe that all the detainees were compelled to draw on the back of their clothes to make attempts to escape, difficult.
We took leave of her in peace, and with sincere blessings that she would succeed. Mala was serious but calm. We envied her self-control. One had to have great courage to dare to implement this plan, under the noses of the armed S.S. guards.
The camp was surrounded by an electrified wire fence, and around that, every 50 meters, there were tall watch-towers occupied by S.S. guards armed with machine guns. This was the first row of guards.
If Mala and Edek succeeded in passing through the gate of the camp without suspicion, they would find a second row of guards in the area, surrounding the entire camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, who were guarding the detainees who worked outside of the camps. This powerful guard, besides being equipped with a large quantity of weapons, also had trained guard dogs.
At the gate of the camp were the headquarters that housed the S.S. guards supervising the departure of the detainees to their workplaces.
Mala reached the headquarters. Next to the gate stood the couriers her three friends, always ready to convey the demands of the S.S. to specifically appointed detainees in the camp. Today they are keeping an eye out, and will warn Mala, in case some S.S. supervisor, of those that are in the camp, should approach. Just then, the S.S. duty officer leaves the headquarters. It is 12pm. He leaves Birkenau. He has been given weekend leave and is travelling on his bicycle to spend time in the town of Auschwitz. Mala and one of her friends enter the headquarters. Another S.S. supervisor is sitting there now she is well known to all of them she likes to drink until she is inebriated Mala prepared a bottle of Vodka for her. The supervisor is resentful that she is compelled to continue her guard duty, comforts herself with liquor, and talks about her troubles.
Mala leaves her friend in conversation with the supervisor and walks to the back wing of the headquarters where the toilets were situated. Earlier, Edek had hidden all Mala's necessities there.
From a distance I see: Mala leaves the headquarters dressed in men's clothes, and on her head is the washbasin, hiding her face. A command stop! and our hearts stopped beating.
The guards at the gate, count us strictly and hand us over to the German supervisors who are dressed in uniform. And again, the shouts to hurry up, run! faster! To the reception shed. The detainees who work in that shed explain, that there, they remove the clothes from our bodies for disinfection;
we are given dirty rags in place of our clothes. Our heads are shaved! Numbers are tattooed on our forearms! all this is carried out amid curses and shouting. But now, we also want this all to pass quickly. Run! Faster! … to rid ourselves of the cruel reception, to find some sort of refuge, no matter what. Quickly! Quickly! to meet up with our relatives who travelled by truck where are they actually? we asked. And then … we learned where we are, and where they took the women with their children and our world became dark now I understood the meaning of the sentence that Mala added to her postcard all the others are with our sister Esther, meaning, that all the others were poisoned with gas! Burnt in fire!! In the factories of the Germans in Birkenau and Mala? Is she still alive? How could we know her fate, in this hell, among thousands of women?
Luckily, I found her. To be more precise, she found me. At that time Mala was already a courier and an interpreter. The Germans chose her for this task because she knew a few languages. As a courier, she had a free pass to one section or another of the enormous camp, a task that was strictly forbidden to other detainees. Mala exploited this position to contact families that had been separated. She endangered her life by bringing news, letters, or medicines if any were available activities that involved the death penalty. In this same way she also assisted the underground movement that had then begun to take root among the detainees and was very active in this area.
When she heard of a transport from Belgium, she rushed to be present, to find out who had arrived who had entered the camp. She was interested in what was happening in the world during the war, warned the arrivals of the dangers of the camp, and in addition, tried to keep up the spirits of the women whose souls were already broken, as a result of the terrible reality.
Mala had one other task. She transferred those who were recovering from a stay in the Kabir (the hospital), to various workplaces. She always tried to arrange for women who were weaker after an illness, to receive lighter work, as much as was available. So, she was always warned the women before selections, and would explain and convince women, that of necessity, they needed to leave the hospital as early as possible, as the selections there, were more frequent. She saved many women in this way, compared to others in her position who lashed out in anger, with constant shouting, and beatings. Mala, however, spoke gently and calmly and often remarked to the others in charge, to treat us with more humanity: indeed we are all detainees here we all have a common fate, claimed Mala.
Her heartwarming smile evoked confidence in the hearts of the detainees. There was always someone running after her, with their personal story. Mala had the patience of Job, was always ready to listen, to encourage, to help everyone, without bias towards nationality, religion, or political opinion.
Mala was a human being in every sense of the word.
Suddenly, rumor spread that Mala and Edek had been caught, that they were already in block 11 in the main camp of Auschwitz. That was the prison in the death camp. There people were severely tortured before being hanged on the gallows. There against the wall, blackened by the blood of the detainees, hundreds of people were put to death for sins that they did not commit. There the command was, to shoot in the nape of the neck. Mala and Edek in block 11? We did not believe it. We did not want to believe it. After two weeks? Not possible. Until one day, we received a secret letter that Mala managed to send to us:
I am prepared for everything. I know what awaits me, but I also know for sure that my end is near. Be strong.
Remember everything. I wish you all peace.
No one knows exactly how the two were caught. All kinds of unsubstantiated rumors spread in the camp. A detainee in the men's camp, who was employed as a barber for the S.S, heard, like others, that Edek and Mala
were caught in an S.S. restaurant, in the town of Katovicz, others say in Krakow. Edek was still walking around in S.S. uniform when a camp guard who happened to be there exactly then, recognized him.
According to another rumor, Mala took ill and was hospitalized in the town of Vislovicz, and in the search that was then conducted, she was jailed together with Edek who sat next to her.
The girls who worked in the political unit, told that they were caught as they tried to cross the Czech border.
But all this is no longer important. They are back in Auschwitz as political detainees. Boger - the Satan of Auschwitz, himself, investigates them. Boger, who knew how to extract everything that he wanted to know from the detainees, using extreme torture. And they found themselves in the hands of this executioner, who invented the swing, a terrifying instrument of torture. The hearts of those who hear this, stop, from great fear: what will happen if they succumb? What will happen if they break under the pressure of the harsh torture. But they are silent days pass, not one of us, is invited to the political unit. No one is being investigated. Perhaps … perhaps they have forgotten what happened they are currently consumed with other forms of murder they are liquidating the Czech family camp.
August 22 evening. Again, the orchestra is playing. Again, the workers are returning from their exhausting work, escorted by armed forces. Roll-call no one is missing. Everyone is present. Mala is also there. She is standing next to the gate from which she departed some weeks earlier. All those returning from work, saw her. They marched in front of her. They all felt that they were seeing her for the last time, although no one knew why she was brought to Birkenau. What sentence was she given? We tried to comfort ourselves, that perhaps it would only be a public lashing, and she would be sent to the penal unit. The gallows are not visible after roll-call, a command: all the Jewesses to go to the expanse between the kitchen and the zeunah, in the camp. The whole team of S.S. guards who escorted the detainees from work, stood about 20 meters away. From there, we are easy targets for the machine guns that are directed towards us, from the watchtowers all around. We march there and stop in the first row. We wanted Mala to notice our presence that she would know that we - - - want to see close up what will happen here. A terrible feeling does not leave us. Mala is vulnerable. She walks proudly, as always her head held high. Behind her, walks Ritters, commander of the workforce. He orders her to stand a few steps in front of us. Mala looks at us, but I sense that she no longer sees us her gaze is elsewhere, no longer of this world. Mandel, the head supervisor, arrives. She reads something from a note I do not hear what I am looking at Mala Mala strokes her hair with one hand, and suddenly she cuts the arteries of her hand! We froze we bit our lips so that we would not scream! Our hands were clenched into fists, but we stood petrified.
Ritter saw something unusual on our faces he looked at Mala, took her grabbed one lacerated hand Mala, with her second bleeding hand, slapped him she slapped him! But he was stronger than her. He bent her hands behind her and called out in anger: you want to be a hero? You want to die? We will kill you. That is our job. murderers!! - shouted Mala soon you will be held accountable for your actions! Girls, do not fear! Their end is approaching! Now I am certain! I know! I was free!.
Ritters hit her head with the butt of his revolver, and when she was stunned from the pain, he pushed her in the direction of the hospital. The camp kapo whistled and commanded: everyone returns to the barracks. I ran after Mala. While being escorted to the hospital; medics, summoned by someone, arrived with a stretcher. They wanted to lay Mala down No!!! - shrieks Mandel she belongs in the crematoria! We will burn her alive!. She instructed that they bandage her hand and bring a hand-cart. In the meantime, they drag Mala to block 4, to the hospital, and there they beat her they are still beating her! The girls arrive with a cart,
lay Mala's wretched body down and they cry. Don't cry asks Mala, in a weak voice the day of revenge is near … do you hear? Remember all the harm that they inflicted on us. . Be silent, cursed one! shouts the S.S.
For two years, you forced me to be silent now I can say everything whispered Mala with her remaining strength. The S.S. stuck a plaster over her lips. Like this he says to Mandel, with a satanic facial expression now she will be silent. He took pleasure from his invention, that hateful man. Mala can no longer speak. She will never speak again now he is certain. He accompanies the cart to the crematoria. There they burn everyone those who were not aware and those who were aware, who also saw them burning documents there, so that no one would ever know their terrible secret. The fire consumes everything. Nothing remains only the ashes ashes that they scatter on the earth. And the wind blows it the ashes that they throw into the Vistula, and the water carries it away. Mala wanted to reveal their secret publicly. Mala is no longer here only traces of her spilled blood, on the path to the crematoria that call out and demand the revenge of the blood of a courageous daughter who put her life in danger hundreds of times, to save our lives. A courageous daughter who wanted to call the nations of the world to action. A daughter of Israel who, faced with death, encouraged us, and comforted us, that the day of revenge is close. Mala is deeply etched into our hearts.
In the men's camp, the young, courageous Pole was hanged Edek Galinski.
from Birkenau-Auschwitz camp to relatives in Belgium.
Dated 30 January 1944.
The Story of Mala Tzimmetbaum Hartman
The Story of Mala Tzimmetbaum Hartman
Translated by Libby Raichman
The story, and particularly the tragic death of the Jewish girl, Mala (Mali) Tzimmetbaum, is told in diverse versions, in almost all the narratives and books about Auschwitz. In Polish camp literature, Mala's story, and particularly that of the Jewish-Polish couple, Mala and Edek, is widely known and embellished with a romantic-heroic halo. Often, fantasy overtakes reality on this topic. In Polish literature, little of Mala's biography, her activity in the camp, and her emergence after her escape, is manifest; rather, the feelings and the fate, that tied the Jewish
|Caption in French below the photograph:
A Symbol of Solidarity
Died heroically in the camp in Auschwitz
Caption in Yiddish below the French caption:
This photograph on a special card, was printed by the Belgian government as an expression of Mala's praiseworthy actions in her struggle against the Nazis.
girl to the Polish boy, are accentuated. None of the Polish writers were present at Mala's execution, because the S.S. permitted only the Jewish women to attend. Jewish material about Mala was more proficient in providing details of her past, her family, and her character, but accounts of her relationship with the young Polish prisoner, were scant.
The two main sources of information about Mala's story, were the reports by two direct witnesses one Jewish, and the second Polish by Mrs. Giza Weissblum, a relative of Mala Tzimmetbaum, originally from Tarnow, Poland, an immigrant to Belgium, a member of the organization The Zionist Youth, and of the Belgian underground resistance movement. In 1943, Giza was deported to Auschwitz where she met up with Mala, observed her life and activities in the camp, and was witness to her escape and tragic death. We will also focus on two other witnesses, originally from Belgium, because they had a closer relationship with her. These were the two deportees Sarah Goldberg (an activist in the Belgian resistance movement), and Sonia Goldman (a left labor-activist). They were close to Mala, and mindful and sensitive to her experiences. Of the Polish witnesses, we will rely on Vi'eslav Kellar, a close friend of the Polish prisoner Edek, and a direct eye-witness to the anguish of the escape, and the tragic finale.
If Mala's biography, deals with the period before her arrival in Auschwitz, then we dispute the statements of her sister, her brother-in-law, and a friend of the heroine, who live in Antwerp; their declarations were gathered by the Jewish-Belgian activist, Boris Shuster.
The opinions of prisoners who stood from afar, are also interesting, for example, that of Bruna Baum and others.
The main witnesses, as we mention above, were Giza Weissblum and Vi'eslav Kellar. Mrs. Weissblum is the closest person to Mala, and Kellar, the closest to Edek.
Mala Tzimmetbaum was born in 1920, in Bzshesko (Briegl), in Poland. The family migrated to Belgium, and settled in Antwerp, at number 7, Marinus Street, a street that was inhabited by poor Jewish families. Mala was raised in this neighborhood. Her father was employed in a diamond factory and led quite a modest life, but he met with adversity and became blind. This forced the children, Mala among them, to seek work at an early age to help the family. A sister, Estush, died prematurely. Three daughters and one son remained at home. At a young age Mala understood the bitter price of life. She became strong and showed tenacity, both in the poverty-stricken home, and as an idealist in the Zionist youth organization The Zionist Youth.
At 14, Mala was forced to interrupt her studies and learn a skill. She was supposed to become a seamstress. The invasion of Belgium by the Germans and her responsibility for the existence of her home, and her blind father,
made her even stronger. She began a struggle to rescue her family and in 1942, she travelled to Brussels to rent an illegal apartment for her family. When she returned to Antwerp, she was arrested at the train station, in a police raid on Jews. Before long, her parents were arrested. Of her entire family, only two sisters and one brother, remained.
Her parents were taken to Maline, the Belgian camp for Jews, and sent to Auschwitz.
Mala wanted to escape from Maline, but she did not succeed, and landed in the hell of Auschwitz.
After the selection that devoured the lives of Mala's parents, she was chosen by the S.S. women, to be a courier and an interpreter. She knew a few languages, among them German, Polish, French, Flemish and Yiddish. She was beautiful, and with an attractive manner, sporty and agile, she found favor with the two main supervisors of the women's concentration camp, Mandel and Dreksler, and remained a courier. A few other Slovakian Jewish girls performed similar functions. The task of the couriers, consisted of carrying out orders, transferring information quickly, and generally assisting the German supervisors with administrative issues.
As a courier, Mala had access to the house of the leader of the block, where permits were kept, and she actually took advantage of this opportunity. She cautiously used various means to help save her fellow prisoners, or to warn people in Belgium who were still free.
As is known, the S.S. forced many newly arrived prisoners, to send letters home to those with whom they were acquainted, with positive messages, saying that they were working normally and feeling well. This was conceived by the enemy, as a means of deceiving the Jews that still remained in the occupied lands and drawing them into their deportation webs. It is widely known that the Germans in Auschwitz forced the Slovakian and Hungarian Jews to do this, and even kept a group of Hungarian Rabbis alive, for this purpose. Mala was also forced to write this kind of postcard, but she dared to add a postscript with a covert message. The relatives, that had meanwhile remained in Belgium, received a postcard from Mala with the following content: I am doing well. I am working and am in good health. All the others are with our sister Estush. Her sister Estush, as already mentioned, had died years earlier.
In the camp (Birkenau), Mala used the freedom that she had, to move between different sections and blocks, and to do favors for the prisoners. She would use her authority to berate the block-leaders and kapos, for shouting at the prisoners for no particular reason. She would say to those who were prominent in the camp: We are all the same here, we are all prisoners, the same fate awaits
us all. She would give paper and pencils to the prisoners, to write letters to those who were close to them and were housed in other sections of the camp.
A postcard from Birkenau camp sent by Mala Tzimmetbaum on the 30th January 1944 to friends in Belgium
At the outset, Mala did all these good deeds of her own accord. Within a short time, she was drawn into the resistance movement by Giza Weissblum, and from that time on, her activities were no longer spontaneous, rather coordinated. In this role she became a liaison officer. In silence, she gave someone a piece of bread, and rescued another from the selections. Her appearance and her optimism, instilled in brutalized and despondent people, the courage to persevere. She would exploit every opportunity at her disposal to transfer women who were physically weak, to lighter tasks. She would steal medicines and share them among the sick. She was very agile and resourceful at the most critical moments of the selections. She boldly risked her own life by changing the numbers in the lists of the dead, in order to save the living. In one word: she became the heart and soul of the contacts and the rescue work, and was very popular among the prison masses, particularly among the Jewish women from Belgium.
But Mala observed everything that took place in the camp, particularly the cruelty at the time of Aktzion Hess (the annihilation of the Hungarian Jews in 1944), and she came to the conclusion, that everything must be done to escape from the camp, to alarm the world. She also saw that hardly a day passed, without someone escaping. The fact that many of the escapees fell into the hands of the camp hangmen, did not frighten her.
Over time, she already knew, and became friendly with the young Polish political prisoner Edward (Edek) Galinski from the Krakow district. He was one of the earliest prisoners in the camp. Due to the fact that he worked in a group of plumbers, he knew exactly, the most minute detail of the camp. Over time the relationship between Edek and Mala developed into one of love. Edek even commissioned a portrait of Mala from an artist who was one of the prisoners. He intended to escape with his close friend, the Pole, Vi'eslav Kellar but when he confided in the latter that he also wanted to take Mala along, Kellar protested, as he did not want to escape with a woman, and especially, one who was Jewish. Edek was, however, insistent, and Kellar abandoned the idea of joining them, and it ended up with Edek and Mala escaping. Edek had already prepared an S.S. uniform. He had to escape dressed as an S.S. man. Over her clothes, Mala put on
men's work-overalls and carried a basin from a toilet on her head. Earlier, she had stolen a permit for Edek from the premises of a leader of the block. It said that the S.S. man (Edek) was escorting a detainee carrying a basin on his head, out of the camp in the direction of the sub-camp Budi.They left on the 24th June 1944, on a Saturday afternoon, taking advantage of the fact that the weekly employees were changing duties, and that the majority were already leaving for their Sunday rest.
Mala had confided her plan in four women: her relative Giza, and three friends who were also couriers, the Jewish Slovakian girls: Leah, Polye and Herda, who truly adored her, and were enraptured by her plan to escape from the camp and to alarm the world. Edek had confided the plan in his friend Kellar and two Polish friends, the prisoner Yurek Sadtshikov, and the civilian worker, Antoni Shimlak. They helped him to organize his escape.
The same day, at roll-call in both the women's and men's camp in Birkenau, the sirens resounded. The search and punishment of the three Jewish girls, couriers, brought no result. Over the course of a few weeks, they could not catch the escapees. In the meantime, the escapees had arrived on foot at the Zshivyetzer mountains close to the Slovakian border, and when they tried to cross this border, they were caught by a German border patrol. This information originates from a later message from Edek to his friend Kellar.
A few weeks earlier, the idea of Mala's escape evoked immense joy among the Jewish prisoners, particularly among the women; but now a difficult, despondent atmosphere prevailed. People feared that Edek and Mala would not be able to endure the torture from the political division, and would betray their friends, but the outcome was different. Giza Weissblum received a message from Mala, from the bunker in block 11. This is what Mala wrote: I am prepared for everything. I know what awaits me, but I also know, that their end is near. Be brave and remember everything. At the same time, Kellar received a message from Edek, also from the bunker. Edek notifies his friends that Mala is conducting herself bravely and boldly. Despite the severe torture, she has not betrayed anyone. They are both awaiting their judgement.
The day of judgement arrived.
On the 22nd August 1944, the execution of Mala Tzimmetbaum was prepared in the women's concentration camp, at the time of the evening roll-call. The orchestra played. Mala stood at the gate. The prisoners marched near her. Surprisingly, there were no gallows. The prisoners wracked their brains; what kind of death had the hangmen prepared for her? After roll-call, the order was given: all the Jews were to go to the area between the kitchen and the zeuna. Here they are bringing Mala. She walks proudly, with her head held high. Behind her walks the work-service leader that will carry out the execution. The camp leader, Mandel, reads the verdict from a note. Mala strokes her hair and apparently, pulls out a razor blade, and quick as lightning, cuts her veins. Her body is
hardened from pain. The S.S. man Ritter noticed the extraordinary occurrence. He grabs Mala by the hands. She slaps him in his face with her bloodied hand. Ritter shouts: You want to be a heroine? For that, we are here, this is our work!
Mala shouts out: murderers, shortly you will be paid back for our suffering. Girls, have no fear! Their end is near! Now I am sure of it. I know, I was free!
Here, Ritter struck Mala with his revolver. She is stunned. A stretcher is brought, and she is taken to barrack number 4. Meanwhile, a turmoil broke out among the Germans, screaming, whistling, and running. While Mala was lying in the barrack, she still spoke to the girls. Listen! Remember everything that they did to you! Keep quiet, you cursed one! responded the S.S. man. For two years I was silent, now I will say everything! whispered Mala with her last strength. The S.S. man then put a plaster over her mouth and said to Mandel: Now she will be silent!
On the orders of the S.S., Mala was put on a hand-cart, while still alive, and escorted to the gas-chambers.
This is how Giza Weissblum, who witnessed the execution, describes the last minutes of the life of the heroine. Another authentic Jewish witness, and friend of the heroine, Sarah Goldberg, completes her description with the following words: I will not forget her death for as long as I live. I will not forget the grey color of her face, her proud manner, not concerned with the pain of her severed veins, her head held high.
According to a Polish female witness, Mala called out at the last moment: I know that I am dying, but that is not important. What is important, is that you (the Germans), will also perish. Your days are numbered. There is no help for you at all, no one will save you.
According to a female Jewish witness, Mala's last words should resound like this: brothers, be strong! Help is near!
The same day, Edek's sentence was carried out. He was publicly hanged in the presence of the assembled columns of men from the Birkenau men's camp. At the last moment, before the S.S. person completed the reading of the death sentence, Edek, whose hands were tied with wire, placed his head into the noose and with his feet, kicked over the stool on which he stood. It appears that Edek and Mala had decided that they would not allow themselves to be murdered by the S.S. executioners, and rather, openly, take their own lives, first; but the hangmen caught Edek, and hanged him with their own hands.
Edek still managed to call out: Long live Poland!
That same evening, the whole camp had only one topic of discussion: Mala and Edek the main officials of the men's camp, brought
the last news of the victim to his friend Kellar, together with two items to be hidden: the portrait of Mala, and a small parcel wrapped in paper, that contained a clump of short hair belonging to Edek and a golden lock of Mala's hair. The inscription on the paper read:
Camp number 531
Camp number 19880.
Edek's last request was, that the paper package with both their hair, be given to his father.
Kellar experienced various camp transfers and managed to save only Mala's portrait that is in the Auschwitz Museum. The paper with the inscription, and the hair, were lost during the course of those turbulent events. Vanished.
The memory of these two heroes, however, did not vanish, these children of martyr-nations, that were united in their shared, tragic fate, in their common ideal and goal, and the most beautiful feeling that arose like a strange flower in the muddy, toxic soil of Auschwitz, the feeling of love.
The story of Mala and Edek is not only a symbol of these feelings, but also the symbol of pure, substantial, heartfelt reality.
The story is one of true idealism, and of unblemished purity in an environment of murder, terror, egoism, and filth.
Mala personifies the entire spiritual and physical courage of the Jewish girl, of the Jewish woman in Auschwitz, displaying familiar, and unfamiliar fortitude.
The local council in Antwerp, have built an honor board into the wall of the house where Mala lived, in 7, Marinus Street, in memory of Mala Tzimmetbaum.
This article is taken from the book The Auschwitz Saga
by Ber Mark, with the approval of Mrs. Ida Mark.
It is with great sorrow that I must note that I did not manage to receive information of the hero of their town, a man of supreme courage in the small town and in its environs, during the days of the Hitler war - may his name be erased. Our hero is known to us as Motl Kainer, may the Lord avenge his blood.
May his memory be eternal!
The inscription in Belgian reads:
Symbol of solidarity
Died 22nd August 1944
Murdered by the Nazis
See article on page 171.
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