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September 15: The Only Woman Escapee

September 14, 2015

MALA-G07Mala Zimetbaum, the only woman to escape from Auschwitz-Birkenau, was shipped there from Belgium on this date in 1942. She was an inmate in the camp for two years, working as an interpreter (she spoke Flemish, French, German, English, and Polish) and using her position to help other slave laborers. In June 1944, Zimetbaum’s lover Edward Galinski, a Polish political prisoner, obtained an SS uniform and blank pass and succeeded at getting Zimetbaum, dressed as a man, out of the camp as his “prisoner.” They made it to a nearby town, but her attempt to buy provisions from a store with gold that they had stolen from the camp aroused suspicion and got her arrested. Galinski then turned himself in. (Other accounts say they were arrested together by a border patrol and tortured before being returned for execution to the concentration camp.) At her execution, Zimetbaum first took a razor blade out of her hair and slit her own veins while shouting about the imminent liberation of the camp and calling upon prisoners to revolt. She was carted off in a wheelbarrow with her mouth taped shut. Accounts vary as to whether she bled to death or was shot by a merciful guard before she could be burned alive in the crematorium. To read more about her, click here.

“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.” —Giza Weisblum