In the early afternoon, on the 24th of June 1944 an SS officer, exited Birkenau Concentration Camp, escorting a prisoner who was carrying a bathroom sink.
The guard at the gate, who did not even glance at the pass, opened the gate and allowed the escort to leave. Several hours later, the sound of a siren announcing an escape filled the Camp.
Edek Galiński, prisoner number 531 was missing from the Men’s Camp, while from the Women's Camp the same was true of Mala Zimetbaum, prisoner number 19880. This escape became legendary within the Camp...
"The love of Edek Galiński and Mala Zimetbaum, became camp legend in Auschwitz, a symbol of the victory of good over evil, of what is human over what is bestial. They gave us hope"
Mala Zimetbaum was a Jewish woman born in the Polish city of Brzesko on January 26, 1918.
In 1928 her father Pinkus, a merchant, emigrated to Antwerp with her whole family. Mala attended elementary school in Belgium, where she became fluent in Flemish, French, German, English, as well as Polish and some Russian.
Because of the difficult financial situation due to her father's blindness, she was not able to attend high school and began working as a seamstress.
Mala was arrested on September 11, 1942, during a roundup of Jews at the main railway station in Antwerp and was in a transport of 1,048 Jews sent to Auschwitz. On September 17, 1942 the transport reached the camp; 717 persons were sent to the gas chambers from the ramp. Mala was among those judged fit for work and was given number 19880.
Edward Galiński was born in Jarosław on October 5th, 1923 and was a student at the maritime school in Pińsk when war broke out.
In the spring of 1940 he was arrested and several weeks later, on June 14, 1940, he was brought in the first transport of political prisoners from Tarnów to the Auschwitz concentration camp. He became prisoner 531 out of the 728 transported.
He survived the next four years of camp life, until, thanks to help from fellow prisoners and chance, he got into a "better" commando and began to work in the camp locksmith workshop.
He served under chief Kommandofuehrer Edward Lubusch. Lubusch was an SS-man, who rather than tormenting the prisoners, helped them.
A blonde, she was liked by Maria Mandel (Commander of the Women's Camp). Mala ... was one of those who worked in transferring female prisoners, who had been released from the infirmary to the housing barracks. When one of our prisoners, a Communist, was returning from the infirmary, it was then that we would ask Mala to take the weakened prisoner to a barrack, from which she would not be sent to do heavy labor. Mala was not a member of our organization, however she helped us and knew about its existence. We were aware that Mala was helping many other prisoners
I knew Edek, he was a sympathetic prisoner with a cheerful disposition; he often came to the Women’s Camp and was friendly to the female prisoners ... Mala and Edek very much loved each other.
A few days before their escape, I knew what they were planning. When we heard the sound of the siren, we were aware of its meaning. You could hear the whispers: “That’s Mala, That’s Mala!”. Mala had escaped from the Camp with Edek.
Preparing to escape
At the end of 1943, Edek began to make efforts to be transferred from the camp locksmith workshop in Auschwitz to the fitters` commando in Birkenau, because he hoped that from there it would be easier to arrange an escape with his good friend and colleague from Jarosław, Wiesław Kielar.
Edek and Wiesław Kielar had persuaded Antoni Szymlak, a tiler by trade, who had entry to the camp zone as a civilian worker, to provide shelter for them once they had escaped before they went further to Zakopane, to Wiesław Kielar`s sister.
When everything was ready Edek became abstracted and reticent. Kielar suspected that Mala Zimetbaum was the reason. They met when Edek went with the fitters commando to the women`s camp to make repairs. Since their first meeting at the turn of 1943/1944 deep affection had grown between them.
"I love and am loved," Mala told one of her fellow prisoners. Edek also confessed his feelings to his friend.
After that confession Wiesław Kielar gave up his part in the planned escape. His place was taken by Mala. On June 24, 1944, she put on work clothes prepared earlier. Edek put the SS uniform on. He attached a holster holding a pistol with two bullets to his waist. Like the uniform, he had received it earlier from SS-man Lubusch.
They crossed the line of camp guard post by showing a forged SS pass, for which Mala had stolen the form. They successfully reached the village of Kozy and received help from Antoni Szymlak.
At the urging of Mala, they changed the next stage of escape route. Instead of Zakopane, they went towards Slovakia, where Mala`s relatives lived and where they wanted to take refuge until the liberation.
But luck had abandoned them. On July 6, 1944, they met a German border patrol. Mala, who was in front, was stopped.
Edek, not noticed by the Nazis, could easily have withdrawn to safety, but he refused to do so.
They were recognized as fugitives and sent back to the camp. In a telegram dated July 27, 1944, Auschwitz headquarters informed the superior authorities of their arrest.
Geheim Staatspolizei – Staatspolizeistelle Litzmannstadt
+++KL. AUSCHWITZ NR. 7309 27.7.44 1730 =DR=AN DAS RSHA, ROEM. 4A 6 KL.B. U.ROEM 4A 4 KL B, BERLIN. – 2. AN RKPA, BERLIN = EM AN SS-WVH AMTSGRUPPE D, ORBG.AN ALLE OESTL. STAPO (LEIT) – UND KRIPO (LEIT) STELLEN U.G.P. KOMM, BESONDERS KATTOWITZ UND KRAKAU ---BETRIFFT: POLN. SCHUTZH. 1. GALINSKI EDUARD, GEB. 5.10.23 ZU WIECKOWICE, SCHUTZHAFTJUEDIN 2. ZIMETBAUM MALKA, GEB. 26.1.18 ZU BRZESKO.---BEZUG: HIES. FS. NR. 6351 U. 6352 V 25.6.44 N UND NR. 6348 V. 26.7.44 – OBENGENANNTE WURDEN LT. FS. DER STAPO ADST. BIELITZ, NR 1736 V 7.7.44 WIEDERERGRIFFEN UND IN DAS HIES. LAGER RUECKUEBERSTELLT.-ZUSATZ FUER KRAKAU: BITTE FANDUNG GLAINSKI LOESCHEN-ZUSATZ FUER RKPA; AUSSCHREIBUNG ZIMETBAUM DEUTSCHES DEUTSCHES KRIMINALPOLIZEIBLATT BITTE LOESCHEN ROEM. 2/531/26.7.44 SCHU – BO – KL. AU. ROEM. 2 GEZ. KRAMER
Edek and Mala were put in separate cells in the cellars of the Death Block. Edward Galiński was in cells 19, 20, 21 and 23 in turn. In each of them he scratched "Edward Galiński no. 531, Mally Zimetbaum no. 19880, 6 VIII 1944" in the plaster on the wall or on the interior side of the door.
The interrogations of the fugitives were long, and torture was used. The camp Gestapo wanted to force them to confess where Edek got the SS uniform and the gun. Edek and Mala kept silent.
In secret messages sent to Wiesław Kielar they reassured Lubusch and the prisoners who knew about the escape that they had nothing to fear. In the camp they were talked about as heroes.
"...Now, all made their way towards the kichen and stood at the edge of a square, where in the middle stood a gallows. After some time, the doors of the cell were opened and Edek appeared within the doorway. There was a sudden silence. You could only hear the grit of the gravel beneath the shoes walking towards the gallows, Edek – the condemned and Jupp – the executioner ... now I saw his upright back as well as his hands, twisted behind him and tied with wire. This was the work of Jupp, who, with a truncheon was walking after him in the direction of the gallows. Here, Edek stepped onto the podium without hesitation, and then immediately on to the stool that was standing beneath the gallows ... an SS-man came forward from the group of the SS standing on the side of the guardhouse and started to read the sentence in German from a piece of paper he was holding in his hand.
At that very moment, Edek, standing on the stool, placed his head in the noose and with his feet, he pushed himself away with considerable force, hanging himself ... The SS-men did not, however, allow for such a demonstration. The Lagercapo realized, just in time, and caught Edek by the waist and placed him back on the stool – loosening the noose. The German finished reading the sentence in his language and then started reading it in Polish. Edek waited patiently until he finished. And in a moment of complete silence, he suddenly yelled with an astonishing voice: Long live Pol… .but he couldn’t finish. Jupp had suddenly pulled the stool away, the noose tightened completely, this time, and Edek’s body became rigid and then after this hanged limp. He was dead. “Hats off!” was the command in Polish that spread from the side where block 4 stood ... This was the moment that the entire camp paid its respect to the departed. One of the SS-men realized what was happening and screamed: “Alles Raus Wegtreten”. Danisch and Jupp were now violently screaming. Raus ! Raus ! In a single moment, the square by the kitchen was empty. Only Edek remained."
SMA-B. Collection of Testimonies: t. 9, c.123-126.
"He suddenly yelled with an astonishing voice: 'Long live Pol…' But he couldn’t finish."
An execution by hanging was also planned for Mala. However, a young Slovak woman fellow prisoner described to Wieslaw Kieler what really happened:
" When she (Mala) was already on the platform, while the sentence was being read she cut her veins with a razor she had prepared beforehand, but as with Edek she was not allowed to die that way.
Rapportfuehrer Taube ran over to her and she slapped his face with her bloody hands. At the same time the SS-men practically trampled her to death before the eyes of the whole women`s camp. She died on the way to the crematorium.”
"I donate two locks of human hair to the Museum. They are wrapped in paper with German printed on it. On the edge of the paper is a pencil inscription: Mally Zimetbaum 19880, Edward Galinski 531. It is an inscription made by Galiński, and his hair and that of Mala Zimetbaum. The camp Lagerkapo, Jupp Windeck, who hanged Edek, gave me the hair and the note an hour after his death in the presence of Rapportschreiber Kazimierz Gosek, stating that it had been the last request of the condemned that I take them and give them to his father. That tragic memento went with me through all the camps, and I kept it to this day."
Curator — Dr Maria Martyniak
Curator — Alicja Białecka