Tragic Love at Auschwitz

The story of Edek Galiński and Mala Zimetbaum

By Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

Contemporary view of the Auschwitz II-Birkenau former camp by Auschwitz-Birkenau State MuseumAuschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

In the early afternoon of the 24th of June 1944 an SS officer left Birkenau Concentration Camp escorting a female prisoner, who was carrying a bathroom sink. The guard at the gate did not even take a glance at the pass, he opened the gate and allowed them to leave. Several hours later, the sound of siren announcing escape filled the Camp. Edek Galiński with prisoner number 531 was missing from the men’s camp, while in the women's camp the same was case of Mala Zimetbaum, prisoner number 19880. This escape became legendary within the camp... 

Telegram about the escape of Mala Zimetbaum (1944-06-25)Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

On the photograph: the telegram sent by the camp authorities on 25th of June 1944 informing of the escape of the female prisoner Mala Zimetbaum. Source: Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Archive (A-BSM Archive)

Mala Zimetbaum by Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Collections DepartmentAuschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

Mala Zimetbaum

Mala Zimetbaum was a Jewish woman born on 26th January 1918 in the Polish city Brzesko. Her father Pinkus, who was a merchant, emigrated in 1928 to Antwerp with the whole family. Mala attended elementary school in Belgium, she was particularly interested in mathematics and foreign languages. She spoke fluently Flemish, French, German, English, as well as Polish and also some Russian. (A-BSM Archive)

Due to her father´s illness the family went into financial difficulties, so that she was not able to attend high school and began working as a seamstress in the well-known fashion store “Maison Lilian”.

Mala was arrested on 11th September 1942, during a roundup of Jews at the main railway station in Antwerp and accommodated in the temporary camp in Malines. Afterwards she was sent to Auschwitz in a transport of 1,048 Jews.

Two days later the transport reached the camp; 717 persons were sent to the gas chambers directly from the ramp. Mala was among those classified as fit for work and was given the prisoner number 19880.

Fragment of a list of transports sent to Auschwitz Concentration Camp (1944)Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

On the photograph: fragment of the list of transports sent to Auschwitz. On 17th September 1942 one transport arrived from Malines. The female prisoners were given the numbers 19821 – 19921 (marked red). (A-BSM Archive)

Edward Galiński, prisoner of Auschwitz, prisoner number 531 (1941)Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

Edward Galiński

Edward Galiński was born on 5th October 1923 in Tuligłowy near Jarosław in Poland, and attended the maritime school in Pińsk when war broke out. He was arrested in the spring of 1940 during the “Operation AB” against the polish intelligence. He was imprisoned in Gestapo- prison in Tarnów. Several weeks later, on 14th June 1940 he was sent in the first transport of political prisoners to the Auschwitz concentration camp. (A-BSM Archive)

He became prisoner number 531 out of the 728 transported persons.

Edward Galiński in the camp’s metalworking workshop (first on the right) by Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum ArchiveAuschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

He spent the next four years in the camp struggling to survive. Initially he was in the Auschwitz I camp, later on he managed to begin to work in the camp locksmith workshop.

His supervisor was the SS-officer Edward Lubusch, who rather than tormenting the prisoners, helped them.

On the photograph: the photo was taken in the camp locksmith workshop. In the foreground is SS-officer Lubusch, Edek Galiński is behind him. (A-BSM Archive)

Portrait of Mala Zimetbaum made in the camp by her fellow prisoner Zofia Stępień-Bator by Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Collections DepartmentAuschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

Mala

“(…) She was blonde and Maria Mandel (commander of the women's camp) liked her. Mala was Läuferin and one of those who worked in transferring female prisoners, who had been released from the infirmary to the housing barracks. She was known among the prisoners from our organisation, she helped us. When one of our prisoners, a communist, was returning from the infirmary, we asked Mala to take the weakened prisoner to a barrack, from which she would not be sent to do heavy labour... 

...Mala was not a member of our organisation; however, she helped and knew about its existence. We were aware that Mala was helping many other prisoners (…).” Fragment of the testimony of Ewa Feldenkreis, a former Auschwitz prisoner, prisoner number 29682.

On the photograph: portrait of Mala Zimetbaum made by the fellow prisoner Zofia Stępień-Bator. (A-BSM Collections)

Edward Galiński, prisoner of Auschwitz, prisoner number 531 (1941)Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

“I knew Edek, he was a very nice and cheerful prisoner. He often came to the women’s camp and was friendly towards female prisoners. It was said, Mala had a Jewish boyfriend in Belgium before she was arrested...

Mala ZimetbaumAuschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

...Mala and Edek loved very much 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 in the fact escaped from the camp with Edek”.
Fragment of the testimony of Ewa Feldenkreis, former Auschwitz prisoner, camp number 29682.
On the photograph: Mala Zimetbaum

A document from the file of prisoners working in the camp metal workshop. (1943)Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

On the photograph: the document from the file of prisoners working in the camp locksmith workshop (A-BSM Archive)

Galiński Edward, prisoner number 531; trained profession: high school student; employed in the camp as: metalwork apprentice.

Map of Bielsko region during the II war (1940/1945)Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

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 from Jarosław, Wiesław Kielar. On the photograph: Map of Bielsko region during the II war

Edek and Wiesław Kielar persuaded Antoni Szymlak, a civilian tiler with access to the camp zone, to provide shelter for them once they escaped.

Map of Bielsko region during the II war - KozyAuschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

He lived in the village Kozy near Beskidy mountains and was supposed to help them before they went further to Zakopane, where Wiesław Kielar`s sister lived.

Photograph of Wiesław Kielar (1978)Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

On the photograph: Wiesław Kielar in 1978 (A-BSM Archive)

Auschwitz II-BirkenauAuschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

When everything was ready Edek became abstracted and reticent. Kielar suspected that Mala Zimetbaum was the reason.

They met for the first time when Edek went with the fitter’s commando to the women`s camp to make repairs. On the photograph: post war photograph of the Auschwitz-Birkenau II, sector BI, where women camp was situated

As they met for the first time at the turn of 1943/1944, deep affection grown between them. “I love, and I am loved” confessed Mala to one of her fellow prisoners. Edek also told his friend about his feelings.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau, sector BIaAuschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

Due to this fact Wiesław Kielar gave up his part in the planned escape. Mala took his place.
On 24th of June 1944 she put on work clothes prepared earlier and 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, made on the blank form stolen by Mala. They successfully reached the village of Kozy and received help from Antoni Szymlak.
On the photograph: Auschwitz II-Birkenau, sector BI (A-BSM Archive)

Blockführerstube barrack at Birkenau (1945)Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

Auschwitz II-Birkenau, fragment of the BIa sector. Outside the fencing on the left, behind the guard tower, Blockführerstube is visible. In the lavatory located in this building Mala Zimetbaum put on work overalls. (A-BSM Archive)

Testimony of Wiesław Kielar (reading by Paweł Sawicki)
00:00

Map showing sites related to the escape of Mala and EdekAuschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

Map showing sites related to the escape of Edek and Mala
1. Block, where Mala lived in the summer of 1944.

2. SS Guardhouse. Here, in the bathroom, Mala changed her clothing before the escape. 3. The camp potato storehouse, where Edek changed his clothing before the escape.

Mala’s route after she left the camp (blue). Edek’s route after he left the camp (yellow).
The route of Mala’s and Edek’s joint escape (green).

A telegram informing about capturing the camp prisoners who had escaped earlier: Edward Galiński and Mala Zimetbaum (1944-07-27)Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

At the urging of Mala they changed the next stage of escape route. Instead of Zakopane, they proceeded towards Slovakia, where Mala`s relatives lived and where they planned to hide.
But their luck just run out. On 6th July 1944, they met a German border patrol. As Mala, was in front, was stopped first. Edek, not noticed by the Nazis, could easily have withdrawn to a safety place, but he didn't.

They were recognized as fugitives and sent back to the camp. In a telegram dated on 27th July 1944, Auschwitz headquarters informed the superior authorities of their arrest.

On the photograph: The telegram from 27th of July 1944 informing of the capture of the fugitive prisoners: Edward Galiński and Mala Zimetbaum (A-BSM Archive)

The “Death Block” in the Main Camp. (2010)Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

Edek and Mala were imprisoned in separate cells in the cellars of the 11th block. Edward Galiński was held in cells: 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 23. On a photograph: The current appearance of the “Death Block” in the Main Camp.

Camp prison in the basement of Block 11. by Paweł Sawicki, Auschwitz-Birkenau State MuseumAuschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

The interrogation of the fugitives was long and tortures were also applied. The camp Gestapo wanted to force them to confess where Edek got the SS uniform and the gun from. Edek and Mala didn't give anybody away.

In the 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 considered heroes.

The basement of the “Death Block.” (2010)Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

Testimony of Bolesław Staroń (reading by Paweł Sawicki)
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The basement of the “Death Block” where Mala and Edek were detained after their failed escape from the camp.

Fragment of the wall from cell 20 in the basement of block 11 of the former Auschwitz I camp. (2010)Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

On a photograph: Fragment of the wall from cell 20 in the basement of Block 11 of the former Auschwitz I camp.

Escapee Edward Galiński was held in this cell after his capture, and he was probably the author of the inscription: “531 Galiński Edward + 6.VII.1944r. 19880 Mally Zimetbaum +.” The inscription includes the names and prisoner numbers of the escapees, as well as the date they were captured: July 6, 1944.

Plan KL Auschwitz I map where are marked sites related with Edek’s and Mala’s escape (2007)Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

On the photograph: Plan KL Auschwitz I map where are marked sites related with Edek’s and Mala’s escape.

On the left - the place where was the building of the Politische Abteilung, where Edek and Mala were interogated...

...on the right block no. 11 - camp prison, where Edek and Mala were imprisoned after their failed escape.

Politische AbteilungAuschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

The building of the Politische Abteilung, where Edek and Mala were interrogated (A-BSM Archive)

Map showing sites related to the escape of Mala and Edek after they were capturedAuschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

Map showing sites related to the escape of Edek and Mala after they were captured
1. The site of Edek’s execution. 2. Block, where Edek lived in the summer of 1944. 3. The site where Mala’s sentence was pronounced.

Photograph of Wiesław Kielar (1978)Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

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.”
A-BSM, Collection of Testimonies, v. 9, p.123-126.

Strand of hair of Mala and Edward by Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Collections DepartmentAuschwitz-Birkenau State Museum

In the Collection of the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau there is an extraordinary
memento from the former concentration camp with the statement of Wiesław Kielar from
29th January 1968 attached to it:

“I donate two locks of human hair to the Museum.
They are wrapped in paper printed in German. 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 was the last request of the condemned that I should take it and give it to his father. That tragic memento went with me through all the camps, and I kept it to this day.” Statement of Wiesław Kielar dated 29th January 1968.

On the photograph: tragic mementos left of Mala and Edek: locks of their hair and an inscription made by Galiński.

Credits: Story

Author: Dr Maria Martyniak
Author: Alicja Białecka

Graphic composition: Agnieszka Juskowiak-Sawicka

Translation: Małgorzata Burek

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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