Abstract | Background | The Couriers | The Fate of Jewish Women in Occupied Poland | Living a Double Identity in Perilous Times | Courier Profiles: Lonka Kozibrodska, and Why Women Were the Couriers | Havka Folman | Frumka Plotnicka…"Die Mameh" | Sima | Gusta Davidson Draenger | Mala Zimetbaum | The Destruction of Crematorium Number Four | What Sustained Them? | Conclusion | Endnotes | Bibliography

Mala Zimetbaum

Be strong! Remember Everything!
Mala Zimetbaum

Like most couriers, Mala Zimetbaum joined a youth movement in her teen years. When the Germans captured Antwerp, Mala and her family were deported with the rest of the city's Jews to Auschwitz. Upon arrival, Mala's parents were sent to the gas chambers. She was spared. Mala spoke German, Polish, French, Flemish and Yiddish and was used as an interpreter in the camp. She became a "runner," for the SS and was allowed to move freely among the women's barracks at Birkenau. Mala used her unique position to help prisoners. She transferred some to easier work, acquired and distributed medications to the sick, provided bread, and smuggled paper and pencils to prisoners so they could write to their relatives in other parts of the camp. Mala had access to the list of inmates who were selected for the crematoria. She changed their numbers in attempts to save their lives.

At the Adolph Eichmann Trial in 1960 during the District Court Sessions, "Witness Kagan," who was a prisoner at Auschwitz testified:

I had known Mala Zimetbaum since the summer of 1942. At that time, she became a 'Laeuferin,' a messenger between blocks and a liaison between the Blockfuehrerstube, the Kapo and the prisoners…She was very decent. She was known throughout the camp, since she helped everybody. And her opportunities and the power, as it were, that she possessed were never wrongfully exploited by her, as was often done by the Kapos. She suffered like everybody else.77

Mala devised a plan to escape Auschwitz with her lover, a Polish prisoner named Edek. They escaped the death camp on Saturday, July 24, 1944 when there was a reduced camp guard. Mala was disguised as a prisoner to be transferred to a work site outside the camp and Edek as her SS guard. Mala had access to documents relating to the operations at the death camp and evidently stole them with the intention of publishing them abroad. Mala and Edek fled to the Zyweik Mountains near the Czech border, where they lost their way. They were apprehended at the border by customs officials and returned to Auschwitz.

Mala was subsequently incarcerated in the infamous Block 11 torture chamber. From her cell, a note was smuggled out which read: " I am prepared for everything. Now I know for sure their end is near. Be strong! Remember everything!"78

According to Witness Kagan, she saw Mala Zimetbaum shortly before her execution:

Q: Did you speak to her?
A: Yes, I asked her how she was.
Q: You went in to her?
A: No she was in a small hut-that was where people waited to be interrogated.
Q: What did she do?
A: Serenely and heroically she said, somewhat ironically: 'I am always well.'79

On August 22, 1944 all inmates of the women's camp at Birkenau were forced into a square to watch Mala's hanging. Marie Mandel the Schutzlagerfueherin (leader of the protective camp) made a speech demanding a "spectacular and exemplary punishment of her."80 As Mala was brought out, by one account, "her head held high in defiance," she pulled a razor blade out of her hair and slashed her wrists in a final act of resistance. According to Witness Kagan, "The SS man went up to her and began mocking and cursing her. Then with a hand covered in blood, she slapped his cheek."81 Mala shouted encouragement to her fellow prisoners to resist and revolt. Consequently, her mouth was taped shut by SS guards. Mala died on the way to the crematorium on a handcart pulled by women prisoners. She was twenty-two.

There is a pencil portrait of Mala Zimetbaum sketched by one of her fellow prisoners, which hangs in the Auschwitz museum. Another homage to her is a plaque on the house where she and her family resided in Antwerp.

© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2002.
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