Mala Zimetbaum- An Auschwitz Heroine

Posted on: 9 March 2022 by Bethan Asher in 2022 posts

Auschwitz - Mala Zimetbaum

Mala Zimetbaum was a 22-year-old woman of Polish Jewish descent who was living in Belgium when the Second World War began. Mala’s life, along with millions of others, was turned upside down by the Nazi invasion of the country in May 1940. In September 1942, at the age of 24, Mala was deported to Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp in Poland.

In June 1944, Mala and her lover, Edward "Edek" Galiński who worked as a mechanic and therefore sometimes entered the women’s camp, planned to escape. Mala wanted to inform the Allies about what was happening at Auschwitz with the aim of saving lives. The couple successfully escaped and fled to a nearby town, but Mala was arrested whilst trying to buy food from a local shop. Mala was the first woman to escape from Auschwitz. Knowing that attempt at escape was punishable by death, Galinski handed himself in as they had promised not to leave each other. Zimetbaum and Galinski were both sentenced to death by public hanging. In a final act of resistance whilst standing on the hanging blocks, Zimetbaum took a razor blade from her hair, slit her own wrists and slapped the SS guard that attempted to prevent her from doing so.

During her time in Auschwitz Mala was given some privileges due to her fluency in several languages (Dutch, Polish, German, Italian and French). She was assigned to work as an interpreter and courier which saved her from the long days of manual labour that regular camp inmates endured. Mala used her privileges to help others in the camp in various ways. She changed lists of worker rotas to help ensure the survival of inmates that could no longer cope with the demands of manual labour as well as editing the lists of those destined for the gas chambers and sneaking food, letters and vital medicine into the camp. These acts of resistance saved lives and helped maintain morale amongst the women enduring the horrors of daily life in Auschwitz.

There are various testimonies of Mala’s acts of resistance that all note how much of an inspiration she was to the female inmates of Auschwitz. Zimetbaum used her privileges for the good of others and acted with courage until the very end of her life, inspiring others to persevere through the horrors of camp life. Mala is an inspirational woman who like many others, should never be forgotten.