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 Malka Zimetbaum

Malka Zimetbaum

Death 1944 (aged 25–26)
Burial Cremated, Other, Specifically: Taken to the crematorium at Auschwitz
Memorial ID 16795665 · View Source
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Malka Zimetbaum, who was known as Mala, was the youngest of five children. Her parents were named Pinkas and Chaya. The family originally lived in Brzesko, Poland, though they eventually moved back and forth from Germany and Poland for a period of several years. In 1928 the Zimetbaums finally decided to leave Poland for good and settle in Antwerp, Belgium. Mala soon proved herself as a brilliant student, particularly when it came to languages and math. The languages she spoke fluently were German, Flemish, English, Polish, French, and Yiddish. Prewar Antwerp had quite a number of Jewish youth organisations, and Mala elected to join Hanoar Hatzioni, a Zionist group whose members were committed to moving to Israel, as a teenager. During her adolescence, Mala also had to put her education on hold to help to support the family when her father went blind. She found work as a seamstress at Maison Lilian, which was a very important fashion house in Antwerp. Mala later took employment in one of the small companies in Antwerp's diamond industry, working as a secretary and linguist.

In the summer of 1942, Mala left Antwerp for Brussels, hoping to find a hiding place there for her family. On the twenty-second of July, she was arrested by the Nazis as she got off of the train that had just returned to Antwerp. Mala was one of about one hundred women who were held at Fort Breendonk; five days later, she and ten other office-workers were taken to the Dossin Barracks at Mechelen Town, a place which had been transformed into a collection, holding, and deportation point. Mala and the other women were put to work in the registry, a job Mala held until her own deportation to Auschwitz on 15 September 1942. Mala quickly was assigned to work in the camp administration because of her extensive knowledge of the European languages, serving as a translator and messenger. This privileged position gave her luxuries that the majority of other prisoners did not have, such as decent clothes, access to many areas of the gigantic camp, the ability to bathe, and a bunk she only had to share with one other person. Mala was also allowed to let her hair grow back and to keep it, instead of having it shaved every three weeks the way the other prisoners did. She never used this prestigious position to her advantage, but rather used it to help others, such as sneaking them extra food, smuggling them newspaper clippings, messages from other inmates, and medicines, and urging them to take better care of themselves so they might survive. Another of her duties was selecting people for work details. Mala would, as often as possible, select the weaker and unhealthier people for details where the work wasn't so hard and where the Kapos weren't as strict and cruel, paying no mind to whether these prisoners were Jewish or Christian, Polish, German, Belgian, or any other nationality. Mala saw them as people, not as members of a particular group. She also would regularly warn people about upcoming selections, so they would know to leave the "hospital" or to not report there in the first place. She also managed to send messages to her family back in Belgium, cryptically warning them about what might happen to them. Unbeknownest to her, her parents and three of her nephews had already been murdered. All of the prisoners she came into contact with loved, trusted, and respected her, and even the S.S. eventually grew to trust and respect her.

Mala met and soon fell in love with Polish political prisoner Edward Galinski (Edek) in late 1943 or early 1944. Edek, who was twenty years old at the time, was over five years Mala's junior. He was also one of the earliest prisoners to still survive, having the very low number of 531 and having arrived on the very first transport. Mala and Edek had one of the few successful love relationships in the camp, with fellow inmates putting their lives on the line to let them secretly see one another (albeit with very little privacy or romantic atmosphere) and to keep the knowledge of the affair from the camp authorities. Mala also managed to give Edek a present once, a crayon drawing that her friend Zofja Stepien had made of her. (The drawing survived and is housed in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum today.) Edek was making plans to escape from the camp, along with a friend, and Mala begged to come along too. Edek agreed to the plan, but his friend wasn't so sure that three people could make it out together undetected. It was eventually decided that only Edek and Mala would escape. Edek managed to get hold of an S.S. uniform, and through her closest friends, Mala obtained a map of southern Poland, a work pass, and a dress she would wear under a pair of male overalls. On 24 June 1944, they successfully escaped and were not discovered missing till that evening. The three other messenger girls whom she had shared her quarters with refused to reveal anything, and were sent to the Penal Company as punishment.

Mala and Edek were recaptured on 6 July while attempting to cross the border into Slovakia, although stories abounded in the camp about how and where they'd been recaptured. Some said they had been caught at a bar, a café, a restaurant, or a hotel in Poland, while others maintain they were recaptured when they tried to pay for a restaurant or doctor's bill with gold. After their recapture, they were taken to a police station in Bielsko and positively identified the next day. They were held in separate cells in the notorious Block 11 upon their return to the camp. Neither gave any names or information even after their interrogators started torturing them. To avoid implicating one another, they maintained they had escaped separately, wearing S.S. uniforms. The S.S. headquarters in Berlin gave their official approval to the death sentence that had been handed down by the camp authorities.

Various sources give varying dates for when the sentence was carried out, ranging from mid-July to 22 September. It seems as though the most likely dates were 22 August or 15 September. According to a surviving member of the camp's resistance, Edek was hanged with five other men in the men's camp on the latter date. Mala was also to be hanged publicly, in the women's camp, though she had smuggled a razor blade into her sleeve and slit her wrists before she could be hanged, and slapped one of the S.S. guards. Pandemonium broke out and Mala was beaten and tied up, as the thousands of female prisoners were ordered to go back to their barracks. Mala was taken to the "hospital," where the nurses were forbidden from bandaging her wrist by the supervisor. Accounts vary on whether she died on her way to the crematorium, if she were put in the crematorium alive, or if one of the S.S. shot her or gave her poison before she were put in the crematorium. Accounts also vary as to her last words, many of them putting heroic inspiring speech in her mouth, though the most likely last words were "Do not cry; the day of reckoning is near. Remember everything they did to us."

Today Auschwitz survivors regularly gather to remember Mala, there is a plaque on the house her family lived in in Antwerp, a scholarship has been named in her honor, and a B'nai B'rith lodge has been named for her.

Family Members


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  • Created by: Carrie-Anne
  • Added: 26 Nov 2006
  • Find A Grave Memorial 16795665
  • Ann Williams Davis
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Malka Zimetbaum (26 Jan 1918–1944), Find A Grave Memorial no. 16795665, ; Maintained by Carrie-Anne (contributor 46778926) Cremated, Other, who reports a Taken to the crematorium at Auschwitz.