Jehanne d’Arc was a defiant, nineteen-year-old Frenchwoman and mystic who is now revered as a martyr for freedom, ever since she was burned at the stake in 1431. Fast forward five centuries to Malka (“Mala” or “Mally”) Zimetbaum.
A contemporary of Rudolf Vrba, Malka Zimetbaum was the first Jewish woman known to have escaped from Auschwitz–for eight days–until she was recaptured in 1944. Nonetheless, Malka, or “Mala,” has been overshadowed in Israel by the paratrooper, soldier-poet Hannah Szenes who was likewise tortured for an extended period prior to her murder.
Malka Zimetbaum and the charismatic Edward “Edek” Galiński, six years her junior, managed to escape from Auschwitz for more than a week before they were recaptured. Their tragic heroism remains largely unknown to the general public in North America but she is better-known in Europe. For instance, one of the first feature films about the Holocaust was a 1947 Polish movie about Mala’s escape and romance called The Last Stage directed and co-written by Wanda Jakubowska. It was re-shown in Poland 72 years later and promoted by the Polish Institute of Tel Aviv, leading to a review in the Haaretz newspaper in 2019.
Malka’s valour in death matched that of Joan of Arc, and, like the diarist Annelies Marie “Anne” Frank, she deserves to be globally admired for her courageous spirit. It has been alleged that Mala, too, was consumed alive while in flames.
According to numerous Auschwitz survivors such as Erich Kulka, who spells her name as Zimmetbaum, Malka managed to slash her wrists or arms (accounts differ) with a razor blade prior to being transported to a crematorium in a cart. Some allege she was taken to the ovens and burned alive. Others suggest she was dead already, or else a guard took pity on her before she was fed to the flames. There is consensus that before she died, Mala hurled invective at her guards and exhorted her fellow female inmates to revolt.
Although she failed in her efforts to escape successfully, Malka Zimetbaum succeeded in inspiring others.
JOAN OF ARC FAILED, TOO
The mystery as to why Malka Zimetbaum has not been accorded more prominence in Jewish history is not one that a website primarily concerned with Rudolf Vrba is going to solve. It’s nonetheless reasonable to assume that an awareness among Auschwitz prisoners that Rudolf Vrba and four other male escapees had disappeared beyond the fences, over a two-month span, must have emboldened Zimetbaum and Edward Galiński in the summer of 1944.
While nobody in striped prison garb could ever know whether Lederer, Vrba, Wetzler, Mordowicz and Rosin were still alive or not, they could reasonably assume an optimistic outcome because the Nazis authorities would have definitely returned the escapees to Auschwitz for visible punishment and execution had they been apprehended. Because prisoners inside Auschwitz had no way of knowing if any of the preceding escapees had been able to enlighten the Allies, Galiński and Zimetbaum were likely intending to blow the whistle on Auschwitz.
Arguably, Galiński had more to tell the world about Auschwitz than anyone else. Mala’s lover had been held in Auschwitz as a political prisoner since June of 1940. As a teenager, Galiński had arrived with the first shipment of prisoners and enemy aliens and he was accorded the remarkably low inmate number of 531. There is no record as to how many others in that first deportation of “enemy aliens” to Auschwitz survived for four years. Possibly nobody alive at the time had more Auschwitz experience than Galiński. For her part, Malka Zimetabaum had accumulated vast knowledge of how Auschwitz was administered because she has been described as “the chief-translator at Auschwitz-Birkenau.” As a duo, their ability to tell the world about how Auschwitz-Birkenau functioned could have rivalled that of Vrba and Wetzler.
MALKA & EDWARD / “MALA & EDEK”
Born on October 5, 1923, Edward Galiński was a camp mechanic who at first had planned to escape with his friend Wieslaw Kielar, another Pole, until Kielar lost a pair of pants for an SS guard’s uniform that was essential for their escape plan. The details can be found in Kielar’s memoir, Anus Mundi: 5 Years in Auschwitz (Latin meaning: Ring of the World).
With Malka as a substitute for Wieslaw Kielar, the escape was scheduled for a Saturday, on June 24, 1944, because Edek thought there could be fewer guards during the weekend. Galiński’s plan was much aligned with the ruse Lederer had used, dependent upon the automatic respect Nazis accorded to someone wearing a uniform with a higher rank. Galiński had access to an SS uniform which had been obtained for him by Edward Lubusch, an SS Officer who was his supervisor in the camp locksmith workshop. Rather than tormenting the prisoners, Lubusch often helped them. With Zimetbaum’s wide-ranging connections, they were able to obtain a blank SS pass. With Galiński posing as an SS officer, he was ostensibly escorting a labourer, Zimetbaum, to undertake a basic maintenance job beyond the checkpoint.
A different version of their story suggests that when Mala asked to accompany the two men, Kielar objected to the inclusion of a woman who was also a Jew. Logistically, a trio would have more difficulty and the Nazis would be far more motivated to re-capture a Jew who had vast knowledge of the camp. A disagreement between the two male friends led Edek to choose to take his chances with his Jewish lover rather than his Polish friend. The decision was made easier by the fact that Kielar had lost the pants to his officer’s uniform, which made his escape all that much more difficult.
Their ruse of a false work permit succeeded. In her summary entitled Mala: A Fragment of a Life, Lorenz Sichelschmidt writes:
“By noon, Mala and Herta Roth, one of the messengers, approached the guardhouse, and while the messenger got the SS ward involved in conversation, Mala went to the washroom to change. The clothes had previously been hidden there, together with a porcelain washbasin, which Mala was to carry on her shoulders to conceal her face. Herta Roth remembers: “When she appeared, I helped her lift the washbasin, making sure her hair did not show. So she set off. I followed her with my eyes, and when she started tripping in ladylike fashion, I sang along in Slovakian so that she could hear it, ‘longer strides, longer strides,’ and she obeyed.”
“Giza Weisblum also describes the scene: ‘From a distance, I could see Mala leaving the guardhouse, bent under the weight of the washbowl on her head, her face almost completely hidden by it. Outside, Edek was waiting. He had concealed himself in a potato bunker not far from the guardhouse. Edek let Mala go first and followed a few paces behind her. This was the procedure for an SS man leading a prisoner.’ The couple would have to pass another sentry line before Mala could discard the washbasin and take off her overalls, so that they would give the appearance of an SS officer off duty with his girl friend.
“The disappearance of Mala and Edek was discovered during roll call in the evening. Mala’s messenger friends were interrogated about her whereabouts. As they gave nothing away, they were stripped of their functions and assigned to the Strafkompanie (Penal Company). The next morning, the SS commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Josef Kramer, sent telegrams to police posts and checkpoints in the area.”
The lovers remained hidden in the woods and mountains near the Slovakian border for two weeks. They had managed to reach the Beskids mountains along the Slovenian border only to fall prey to two of the escape errors that Vrba and Wetzler had wisely avoided. First, the pair had carried some pilfered gold with them. Secondly, they decided to take the risk of sending Mala into a store in order to buy bread. Purchasing bread with gold was a catalyst for immediate suspicion.
A German border patrol was alerted and Zimetbaum was soon apprehended. Galiński could have escaped but watching Mala being arrested from a distance was more than he could bear. With a pathos that harkens one’s imagination back to the tragic fidelity of Romeo and Juliet, the pair had promised never to separate. Consequently, Edek proceeded to keep his promise, simultaneously knowing that doing so would cost him his life.
Other accounts of their capture state simply that they were caught by a border patrol.
Click to enlarge these photos.
Dreadful tortures followed for both of them. The pair was taken to Block Eleven in Auschwitz where they were detained for more than a month. This was extraordinary long time for anyone to remain inside The Bunker. Few people survived inside for a week. It was a house of horrors from which few prisoners were released. As Kraus and Kulka put it, “The SS styled it the ‘educational block’ and it represented the culmination of all their bestiality, known as ‘intensified discipline’.” The penal block was first in Camp BIb before it was in the men’s camp BIId.
Inside Block 11, even though they were detained in separate cells, the besotted pair remained connected. The story goes that they could whistle to each other down a hallway and a friendly guard passed notes between them. When the ever-gallant Galiński was allowed outside briefly for exercise he would stand beside what he thought was Zimetbaum’s cell window and sing an Italian aria.
How such details were known and recorded is a mystery. They could be fanciful. Nonetheless, there can be no argument as to whether or not the couple’s teamwork in the face of overwhelming odds was inspiring. While their romance had blossomed inside the camp, other fellow prisoners did whatever they could to foster and protect it.
As well, there remains concrete proof that their love story is real. Galiński scratched their names and prison numbers on a wall in Cell 20 inside Block 11 and the etching was discovered after the war. An image of Galiński’s painstaking etchings can easily be found on the internet if one knows enough to look. An image is provided here:
After the pair steadfastly refused to kowtow to their captors, it has been suggested that the Nazis decided the lovers should be executed on the same day, September 15, 1944, in front of their respective male and female camps. This could be true. Possibly the Nazis did plan at some point to have Galiński hanged as a spectacle in the men’s camp; and Mala would be hanged in a similar spectacle for the women.
In their essential book, The Death Factory: Document on Auschwitz (1966), Auschwitz locksmiths Ota Kraus and Erich Kulka, both Czechs, allege that Malka (or Mala or Mally) was “secretly sentenced to be burnt alive.” If it was a secret, who knew? There are various storylines to consider as to the nature of Mala’s murder, as well as how Galiński was killed. Given that the details are grim, it stands to reason that a somewhat sanitized, storybook version might rise to the fore. Regardless of whether or not Malka knew her destiny, there is ample evidence to claim she remained defiant.
It has been assumed that the SS decided both Mala and Galiński must be publicly humiliated on raised platforms in their respective female and male camps–and this was probably true in Mala’s case. There are various eyewitness reports. Her fellow females prisoners were instructed to march past her. Ever defiant, Mala allegedly struck her SS guard (named Rutter, according to Auschwitz survivor-turned-historian Erich Kulka) in the face while he was looking away. She then slashed the veins of one wrist with a concealed razor blade, intending to bleed to death. The story goes that before she was accorded medical treatment, whether she wanted it or not, Zimetbaum slapped a guard’s face with her bloodied hand and allegedly shouted, “I shall die a heroine, but you shall die like a dog!”
Such quotes might be deemed apocryphal but the there were two reliable witnesses for her heroism. The Auschwitz survivor Raya Kagan referred to Zimetbaum’s valour within her Session 70 testimony for the trial of Adolf Eichmann, delivered on June 8, 1961 and her recollections have been corroborated by Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi in his 1986 book The Drowned and the Saved, (I sommersi e i salvati). Levi recalls Zimetbaum as a Birkenau interpreter and messenger who “enjoyed a certain amount of freedom of movement.” She was therefore akin to Vrba and Wetzler in that her multi-lingual abilities had made her valuable for the smooth running of the complex.
The French Auschwitz survivor Fania Fenelon recalls “Mala” (no last name was given) as “the chief-translator at Auschwitz-Birkenau.” Sent to Auschwitz in 1942, she was given a relatively desirable job as a courier and translator due to her fluency in German, Polish, English, French, and Flemish. Fenelon also purports to record a final conversation between Mala and an SS officer during which Mala supposedly asked to be gassed like her parents and so many others. This seems hard to believe. More credible is Fenelon’s record of Mala’s last words. As she was being dragged away in front of her fellow female inmates, Mala allegedly screamed, “Revolt! Rise Up! There are thousands of you. Attack them — they’re cowards, and even if you’re killed, anything’s better than this, at least you’ll die free! Revolt!”
There are reports that a Nazi guard tried to silence her by grabbing her arm and breaking it, after which she was knocked to the ground and held down while her mouth was taped shut. After she had tried to cut the artery on one of her wrists, she was supposedly taken to the camp hospital, but nobody can verify the truth now, for certain. Others claim a guard took pity on her at the crematorium and shot her before she was incinerated.
Kulka and his co-author Ota Kraus could not have witnessed the events on the platform. Nonetheless, they confidently conclude “they loaded her on a handcart and took her to the crematorium to carry out the sentence.” The dramatic inference is that Malka was burned alive. But one can never know for certain. The head supervisor of the women’s camp supposedly yelled that “this beast should burn alive in the chimney.” This, too, sounds apocryphal.
Here is one eye-witness testimony.
“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.”
Raya Kagan, in Hell’s Office Women, provides another: “Mala got hold of a razor blade and quietly slit open her veins. … One of the blockführers grabbed her by the hair. Mala slapped him across the face with her bleeding hand. The SS man crushed her hand. Legend has it that she told him: ‘I shall die a heroine, but you shall die like a dog!.”
In the Collection of the State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau there is also 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.
The story is less fanciful than Romeo & Juliet, and all the more credible. These were heroic spirits. A memorial message for Galiński succinctly states: “Those who knew him said he was very handsome, brave, and manly, a person who was willing to take risks. Despite his youth, he served in the Polish Army after the Nazi invasion of his homeland. He was arrested as a political prisoner and taken to the Tarnów prison sometime after Poland fell to the Nazis. On 14 June 1940, he was one of 728 male Polish political prisoners who made up the first deportation to Auschwitz, which at the time was “only” being used as a camp for criminals and political prisoners, not Jews and Gypsies as well.
“Edek was assigned work as a mechanic, a line of work which brought him into contact with several civilians who were working on the camp’s construction. His work as a mechanic also enabled him to have access to some of the sub-camps, among them the women’s camp at Birkenau, where in late 1943 or early 1944 he met and shortly fell in love with Mala Zimetbaum, who worked as a messenger, a very privileged position that enabled her to save many, many lives.
“Galiński reportedly tried to jump into the hangman’s noose before sentencing could be read on September 15, 1944. His last words were shouted in defiance, “Long Live Poland!”
There is another version of how Galiński died that is more disturbing and more credible. At the very end of their book, The Death Factory, Kulka and Kraus provide an addendum that outlines the notorious cruelties of Wilhelm Boger. This grimmer viewpoint emanates from a Russian-born Frenchwoman named Dunja Wasserstrom who was deported from France to Auschwitz in June of 1942.
Initially, after being separated from her husband on the platform, Wasserstrom was relegated to hard labour draining swamps, working the gravel pit and carrying bricks. Other times she was required to help carry dead bodies of other workers to the mortuary where she would have met Alfred Wetzler, the registrar. The story goes that she once talked an emaciated Greek girl out of committing suicide, then nursed her back to health.
One day when the guards were asking if anyone could work as a Russian-Polish-German interpreter and typist, Dunja Wasserstrom volunteered to work within the Political Department of the Gestapo. Initially, she worked for an SS man named Draper in the Welfare (Fürsorge) Office. There she was obliged to provide false answers to letters forward by the Red Cross from people all over the world who were seeking news about their missing relatives, some of whom were in Auschwitz. The standard reply was, “Not in the camp.”
Wassertrom was then re-assigned to work for the sadist Wilhelm Friedrich Boger, nicknamed Tiger of Auschwitz. With the rank SS Hauptsturmführer (“head storm leader”), he was the head of interrogations from December 23, 1943 until the evacuation of the camp. His contribution to mankind was his invention of the so-called Boger Swing, an implement of torture that was described by his secretary Frau Braun. The hands of a victim were fastened behind their back, then fastened to the victim’s feet, as the victim was suspended to swing in the air from an iron bar that hung from the ceiling. Stripped naked, the victim swung from this bar, with their wrists manacled to their ankles, while Boger asked questions and a guard smashed the suspended victim on the buttocks with a crowbar.
As one of Boger’s secretaries named Frau Braun reported: “As the swinging went on and on, and the wailing victim fainted was revived only to faint howling again, the blows continued—until only a mass of bleeding pulp hung before their eyes. Most perished from the ordeal–some sooner, some later. In the end a sack of bones and flayed flesh and fat was swept along the shambles of that concrete floor to be dragged away.”
It was Wasserstrom’s office job to take dictation and type, but she also was obliged to teach her boss Russian and French. She recalled that Boger was learning Russian because he hoped to command a small army of Russian prisoners from Auschwitz. Boger hated Poles more than he hated Jews. When Boger wanted to impress his new secretary Dunja Wasserstrom with his new invention, he called it “my talking machine.” He was particularly fond of interrogating Polish intellectuals on this swing. Consequently, when Mala and Galiński were recaptured after their escape attempt, Boger was keen to interrogate Galiński while Mala was forced to watch.
In Kraus & Kulka’s The Death Factory, on page 278, we are told, “He died without saying anything. Then Boger questioned Mala…” This evidence was given by Dunja Wasserstrom on April 23, 1964 after Wasserstrom was flown from Mexico, at the court’s invitation, for the Frankfurt trial of Auschwitz criminals, during which author Erich Kulka also testified. After numerous eye witness testimonies, Chief Judge Hans Hofmeyer sentenced Boger to life imprisonment with hard labour for murder in at least 114 cases and as an accessory to murder in at least 1000 cases. The inventor of the Boger Swing died on April 3, 1977 in a German prison at the age of 70.
Born in Brzesko, Poland on January, 26, 1918, “Mala the Belgian” was the youngest of five children born to Pinhas and Chaya Zimetbaum. After their family relocated to Antwerp, Belgium, when Mala was ten, they lived on Marinistraat, in the Jewish quarter of Borgerhout. She excelled in mathematics and languages and became a pattern-maker by profession. She worked as a seamstress in a ladies’ fashion store, ‘Maison Lilian.’ Her elder sister Yochka remembers her as “the intellectual one,” as she spoke several languages, but soon Mala was obliged to take a job at a diamond factory when her father lost his sight. She was active in Hanoar Hatzioni, one of nineteen Jewish youth organizations in Antwerp.
As conditions worsened for Jews, Mala began to search for a hiding place for her parents and herself. The pressing need to find a refuge took her to Brussels. Upon her return to Antwerp she was arrested, at age 24, at the main train station on July 22, 1942.
For the next five days she was detained with about 100 other women at Fort Breendonk, then transferred to Mechelen along with other potential female office workers. Mechelen’s Dossin Barracks had been transformed into a makeshift deportation terminal for Jews. There she and a few of her companions were forced to work as registrars to keep track of deportations. Reputedly, some 25,475 individuals (one-fifth of whom were under age 16) were deported between August 1942 and August 1944.
Eventually, a tenth deportation train left on September 15, 1942 and Mala was on it. This transport from the Dossin Barracks in Belgium reached Auschwitz on September 17, 1942. Only 313 of the 1048 deportees were assigned to hard labour; therefore the German Security Detachment (SS) decided that approximately two-thirds would be gassed as soon as possible. As one of the 101 women considered fit to live, Mala Zimetbaum received tattoo #19880 on her forearm and eventually met Wanda Marossanyi, born in Nowy Sącz in 1918. Marossanyi had been in Auschwitz since May 28, 1942 as prisoner #7524: “I met Mala in the winter from ’42 to ’43,” she recalled. “I know that she came with a Jewish transport from Belgium in September ’42 and entered the camp on the basis of selection. It’s just that young, healthy women would enter the camp and the old ones would be gassed. “
At the women’s camp in Birkenau, Zimetbaum’s proficiency at seven languages, including Yiddish, made her valuable to her captors. While accorded relatively comfortable accommodations and better food, she was simultaneously enmeshed in the camp underground resistance movement and was much-loved for always finding ways to help others. Primo Levi claims she was “generous and courageous.”
In Mala: A Fragment of a Life, Sichelschmidt writes, “Jewish prisoners were given the opportunity to write to their relatives. On a postcard dated August 25, 1943, Mala wrote to her elder sister: “Don’t worry, I am in good health, working as an interpreter… All the others are together with Etush.” To which one must add that Etush, Mala’s sister-in-law, had died before the war. Another postcard from Mala, dated October 25, 1943, read: “My dear sister, why don’t you write me? You know that every couple of lines from you will renew my courage to face life… Where are our dear parents; why don’t they correspond? What about the dear children? Thinking of it will drive me mad…” Mala’s misgivings were justified: Her parents and her three nephews, aged 3, 5, and 6, had been killed in the gas chambers of Auschwitz long before.”
Similarly, survivor Tzipora Silberstein has recalled, “The young woman was pretty, indeed very beautiful. She spoke Polish, Yiddish, Flemish, French and German. She was charming. … This young woman did hundreds and thousands of good things for all of us. There were transports from Greece and she would stand near the Germans, writing things down. Many times, I heard that she only pretended to write, thus saving many people’s lives. She would bring medicine to sick people.”
Survivor Giza Weisblum has recalled, “One of Mala’s responsibilities was to assign the sick released from the hospital to various work details. She always tried to send the women who were still weak from their illnesses to the lightest type of work. Also, she always warned the patients of the coming selections, urging them to leave the hospital as quickly as possible. In this way, she saved the lives of many women.”
Zimetbaum’s siblings, Gitla, Marjem, and Salomon Rubin, survived the Nazi Holocaust. Gitla migrated to South America where she died in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
While it’s tempting to accept the fanciful notion that Edek and Mala were the ‘Romeo & Juliet of Birkenau’—Shakespeare himself might have chosen to pitch their romance in that vein—the truth of their tragic tale is far too grim to be re-positioned as entertainment. Nonetheless, there is now a book hyped as “an absolutely heart-breaking World War 2 page-turner” by Ellie Midwood entitled The Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz despite the fact that, after two years in Auschwitz (two years almost to the day of her escape), Malka Zimetbaum can hardly be described as a girl. And her escape failed.
Sources about Mala include Giuliana Tedeschi’s Questo povero corpo (Milan: Edizioni dell’Orso, 1946 / Yesh makom al pnei ha-adamah (Yad Vashem: 2000); Raya Kagan’s Hell’s Office Women: Oswiecim Chronicle Merhavyah, Israel: Sifriat Poalim, 1947); Kielar Wiesla’s Anus Mundi: Fifteen Hundred Days in Auschwitz-Birkenau (German) translated by Susanne Flatauer (New York: Times Books, 1980, 224–263); Sara Nomberg-Przytyk’s Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land translated by Roslyn Hirsch (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Caroline Press, 1985); Primo Levi’s The Drowned and the Saved (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988); Fania Fenelon’s Playing for Time (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1997).
Because the subject of the movie is about Auschwitz, you can watch it only on YouTube, and you may add the subtitles in English by clicking on the red underlined rectangle underneath the video. Click here to watch The Last Stage.
A musical entitled Mala, The Music of the Wind was staged at the Pallas Theatre in Athens in 2002 starring Grecian pop singer Anna Vissi and written by Nikos Karyelas. A 27-song CD soundtrack is available.
The makers of this website believe that Rudolf Vrba would approve of reminding the world of the bravery of Malka Zimetbaum and he’d also want recognition accorded to Janina Nowak given that accounts of women attempting to escape from Auschwitz are rare.
Janina Nowak has been cited as the first woman known to have escaped from Auschwitz. Born on August 19, 1917, from Będów near Łódź, Poland, Nowak became prisoner #7615 when she arrived at Auschwitz on June 12, 1942. According to the Auschwitz Museum, she escaped only twelve days later on June 24, 1942 from a Kommando labour unit of 200 Polish women who were working near the Soła River, drying hay. The Nazi guards pursued her in vain.
That night, back at the barracks, her fellow female prisoners had their hair cut in punishment. Only Jewish women had had their heads shaved prior to Nowak’s escape. The prison unit was sent the next day to an SS-controlled farm called Budy, six kilometres away. There they were housed in crude wooden barracks, surrounded by barbed wire fencing, and forced to do hard, physical labour (digging drainage ditches, for instance) as further punishment. Budy was the site for a women’s penal colony that had commenced with the transfer of Polish women on April 27 and May 28, relocated to a former school building. The first camp supervisor was SS-Aufseherin Elfrieda Runge and it was guarded by 25 SS men with dogs. The harsh conditions frequently proved fatal. In October of 1942, female guards used poles and axes to massacre approximately 90 Jewish women from France.
Nowak got as far as Łódz, where there was the largest Jewish ghetto in Poland–although according to the Auschwitz Museum in 2023, she was not Jewish. She remained at-large until her arrest in March of 1943. Brought back to Auschwitz on May 8, 1943, she received a new prisoner number, 31592. Later that year she was transferred to Ravensbrück and survived until its liberation at the end of April in 1945. Her subsequent years are largely undocumented but Marta Byczkowska-Nowak (born in 1984) has published a novel in tribute, What path to freedom? The story of the first woman to escape from Auschwitz, in 2021. A graduate of the Faculty of Polish Philology at the University of Lodz, Byczkowska-Nowak has worked as a television journalist and theatre critic.
Next: GILBERT ON THE ESCAPE