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- Story Listed as: True Life For Adults
- Theme: Drama Stories / Human Interest Stories
- Subject: Courage / Heroism
- Published: 06/25/2015
''Love and Death in Birkenau'Born 1957, M, from Belfast, United Kingdom
‘’Love and Death in Birkenau’’
'‘The Romeo and Juliet of Auschwitz’’
Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, 2:33 pm, 1968.
In the afternoon of a cold January day in 1968 a man named Wieslaw Kielar walked into the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum building and asked for the Curator. He explained that he had an artefact from the death camp Auschwitz that he felt he needed to give them and if he could take up a little of their time to tell the story behind it. They brought him into a small room and offered him a cup of tea, when he had finished they asked him ‘What is this relic that is so important?’
Without speaking Kielar reached into his overcoat pocket and placed a small piece of aged white paper on the table in front of him. Slowly he unfolded it with all the delicacy of a conjuror unveiling his illusion.
‘’I have a story that must be told’’, he began, ‘’not mine, that can wait, but of two people who I once knew. For too long the world has slowly become impervious to the horrors of the holocaust which I have witnessed in my lifetime, and the revulsion I have of how one man can hate another so much just because he thinks he is better than them, and how this abhorrence feeds blood lust, but these men will answer to God when he deems it time and he will surely show them the door to hell.’’
The Curator, a tall thin man with black thick glasses that rested perilously close to the end of his nose, entered the small cluttered office and when his eyes befell the papers contents he ushered out the secretary who had led Mr Kielar in and instructed her to locate the museum’s voice recorder. ‘’Hurry along girl’’ he whispered to her in the hallway ‘’we must not keep Mr Kielar waiting’’
‘’Do not be too harsh with the fine young lady’’ Kielar said resting his walking cane against his leg ‘’Do you mind if I smoke?’’ he asked, producing a silver cigarette case from his breast pocket.
‘’Not at all’’ the Curator replied, rising from his seat, indicating the way with his arm, ‘’it is not allowed in this room," he said, pointing to the numerous shelves that seemed to contain hundreds of old envelopes, ‘’But please come into my office, I have an ash tray there you can use, it’s just through here’’.
Kielar followed the well dressed man out into a long a narrow corridor that had heating pipes and dust covered lights hanging from the ceiling. As he ambled along he could smell the dampness of the old building that seemed to invoke memories he had long since put away. He felt a shiver run through him and in his ears he thought he could hear the pitiful screams of the dead who seemed to haunt his very soul since the day he was liberated.
When they reached the Curators office the young blonde girl was waiting by the door carrying a small rectangular tape recorder that had two reels and a stand mike attached to it. She smiled at him nervously, ‘’what is your name child?’’ he asked her.
‘’Anna’’ she replied sheepishly ‘’Anna Lopnich’’
‘’You remind me so much of her, she too was a beauty’’
‘’Who?’’ Anna replied ‘’was she your wife?’’
‘’Ha!’’ Kielar laughed throwing his head back ‘’if only I had been so lucky, no my child, she was in love with someone else’’
‘’What was her name?’’
‘’That I will reveal soon, now let us be seated and then first I will enjoy my smoke while you set up your device’’
Anna smiled back at him before placing the tape recorder on the table,
‘’I will take some notes if you do not mind Mr Kielar, as you talk’’ she said lifting out a note pad from her pocket.
‘’That will be acceptable’’ he nodded, then lit his cigarette.
Smoke curls rose and swirled around the overhead lamp light like eerie clouds on a moonlit night. After three long puffs Kielar flicked his ash into the cut glass tray the Curator had placed in front of him.
Once more he unfolded his artefact on the table before looking at each of them in turn.
‘’I am ready now’’ he declared quietly ‘’Switch on your device sir.’’
The Curator leaned forward and engaged the start switch; the recorder gave out a low hum as the two circular tape wheels slowly turned.
‘’My name is Piotr Cywinski and I am the curator of the museums here at Auschwitz-Birkenau. With me is Wiselaw Kielar, and my secretary as witness to this is Miss Anna Lopnich, the date is January 28th 1968. Do you wish to begin Mr Kielar?’’
‘’Yes, I am ready’’
Cywinski placed the small microphone directly centre of the table and then leaned back into his chair.
‘’I was arrested in Yaroslavl, a town in the municipality of Poland, by the Gestapo in the first days of May 1940.’’ he began. ‘’I became one of the first inmates of this place, my number was prisoner 290. After being transported here I spent the next few years in various parts of the camps as a porter for the corpses, a nurse, then a writer. These are my true words as spoken this day.
The love of Edek Galinski and Mala Zimetbaum became camp legend at Auschwitz, a symbol of the victory of the good over evil, of what is human over what is bestial. They gave us all hope.
Mala was a Jewish woman born in the Polish city of Brzesko, January 26th 1918. In 1928 her father Pinkus imigrated the whole family to Antwerp. a merchant by trade, Mala attended elementary school in Belgium. She became fluent in French, German and English along with some Polish and Russian. But sadly due to her fathers increasing blindness affecting his financial situation she took a position as a seamstress. It was during a round up of Jews at the main Antwerp train station that Mala was arrested. Along with over one thousand others she was sent here, the train arrived on the 17th of September 1942, 717 prisoners were sent directly to the gas chambers from the ramp. Mala was among those judged fit to work and was given the number 19880.
Edek, or Edward Galinski was born is Jaroslaw on October 5th 1923, he was a student at the Maritime School in Pinsk when war broke out. In the spring of 1940 he was arrested and by June he was transported here as one of 728 political prisoners from Tarnow, where he became number 531, he survived the next four years of camp by chance and the help of fellow inmates. He got into a better ‘commando’ and began working in the camp’s locksmith workshop. He served under Chief Kommandofuehrer Edward Lubusch, Lubusch was an SS-man who rather than tormenting the men helped them.
Mala was a blonde just like you Anna which is why I said you reminded me of her, over the years she became liked by the women’s commander Maria Mandel, I know this because I was informed by another survivor named Ewa Feldenkreis, she told me that Mandel had set her to escort sick women from the infirmary to the housing barracks. Mala knew of the communist organisation there but never became part of it, although she helped those out along with many others.
Ewa also knew Edek, she knew him like me as a fellow of cheerful disposition and sympathetic. He often came to the women’s camp and was friendly to them. Mala and Edek very much loved each other.
In the early afternoon of the 24th of June 1944 an SS officer exited Berkenau, the guard at the gate didn’t even glance at the pass and let both the officer and the prisoner he was escorting who was carrying a bathroom sink go through. Several hours later a siren announcing an escape filled the camp, prisoners 531 and 19880 were missing. I already knew of this escape and who it was that had so courageously carried it off because I was supposed to be one of the two. Months before after Edek was transferred from the workshop to be a fitter we persuaded a tiler by the name of Antoni Szymlak who had access to the camp as a civilian worker to help Edek and myself once we had escaped, our aim was to go to my sister who lived further away in Zakopane. When everything was ready I noted that Edek was abstracted and reticent. I suspected that Mala Zimetbaum was the reason. He confessed to me that he was deeply in love with Mala, and since I learned she spoke to other women in the camp saying ‘I love and am loved’. It was then I decided to give up my part in the escape, an escape that became legendary. Edek wore the uniform of the SS officer, Mala the clothes of a worker that we had prepared earlier, the pistol he carried in its holster strapped to his waist contained two bullets, and both the uniform and pistol were supplied by SS-man Lubusch. The pass they used was a stolen form that Mala had obtained from the commanders office, once out they reached the village of Kozy were they received help from Antonio Szymlak.
At the urging of Mala she persuaded Edek to change the next stages of the route to Slovakia were Mala’s relatives lived and were she believed they could take refuge until the war was over. But luck had abandoned them, on July sixth 1944 they met a German border control, Mala who was in front was stopped. Edek not noticed by the Nazi’s, could have easily withdrawn to safety but he refused to do so. They were recognised as fugitives and sent back to the camp. A telegram dated the 27th of July informed the superior authorities that they had been captured.
Edek and Mala were put in separate cells of the death block, Edek was in 19, 20, 21and 23 in turn, you will find his name scratched on the walls in each of them along with Mala’s. Their interrogations were long and torture was used. The camp Gestapo wanted to force them to disclose were they got the uniform and pistol from, but each stayed silent, in secret messages they were able to assure Lubusch that he had nothing to fear’’
The Curator leaned forward while Kielar paused briefly and asked him if he was ok, he assured him he was fine and he was happy to continue with his story.
‘’Were you not fearful for your own life if you were found to be helping them?’’ He asked ‘’can you remember where you were that afternoon’’
‘’Of course’’ Kielar replied ‘’I had made my way towards the main Blockfuhrerstube jumped the ditch and turned right in the direction of sewer pipes. I took out my measuring tool and pretended to be taking measurements of the pipes; this was a good vantage point. From my left I had the infirmary and on the other side of the Lagerstrasse wires was the main ‘wache’ that Edek was approaching. He disappeared into the gigantic gate then in a while he emerged in the company of another prisoner who I knew as Jubek, both were wearing overalls and carrying toolboxes walking quickly in the direction of the Karoffelbunker. It was then Edek noticed me and waved, within a moment he had unlocked the door and went inside, no one would have noticed a prisoner going into the bunker even so it happened so quickly, and besides there was no one in the area. It was shortly after that I saw Mala walking at a fast pace down the road, another prisoner shouted to her from the infirmary behind the wires, Mala indicated to her that she was in a hurry before entering the bunker, Jubek had arranged for Mala to change her clothes into his overalls and it was his idea for her to carry the washbasin. They seemed to be in there for such a long time and I could see their silhouettes moving through the small glass window, eventually all three came out, Edek was wearing the uniform. On my signal for that was what he was waiting for because he was unable to see the guard house, they moved forward, Edek dismissed Jubek just as a SS-Man would then made Mala walk ahead of him as was the manner of escorting prisoners. After a while I lost sight of them and there was still the crossing of the great postenkete , beyond that lay their freedom. I was completely wet with sweat and my legs were like rubber when they came into my eye line again but they had great courage, if they could make it without being stopped they would be free, I waited there for a few more moments, and the sirens remained silent, no one was led back. The worst was over.’’
‘’How long did you wait there?’’ the Curator asked him.
‘’Not long, I did not want to draw attention to myself, but while walking back I meet Jubek and we were able to talk in a quiet area beside the gypsy camp He told me all of the things that had happened in the bunker with Edek and Mala ‘We cannot be seen together’ he said to me ‘We must be careful because the devil never sleeps’ it was getting dark by the time I had reached block number four because on the way I had been stopped by many who had spoken of Edek and Mala’s great courage and how they had become symbols of freedom.’’
‘’The word had spread quickly round the camp’’ the Curator spoke softly ‘’ would you like stop for more tea?’’
‘’No’’ Kielar replied clearing his throat. ‘’I will continue if you don’t mind’’
The Curator nodded in agreement.
‘’After they were captured and placed in the death block a prisoner I spoke to named Bolstaw Staron after they liberated us told me he had shared a cell with Edek and each night after roll call he would sing a song to Mala who was in block 11 not far from him. He would serenade her through his window with the song Serenata in Messico by Claudio Villa, I never thought about it much but then I knew that was Edeks way of letting Mala know he was still alive. Staron was with him when he carved his and Mala’s names with his spoon into the wet plaster walls. They were so much in love even prison could not diminish their adoration’’
Kielar paused once more because the young girl Anna behind him had begun to weep; from inside his coat pocket he produced a small linen handkerchief and handed it to her.
‘’Don’t cry my child’’ he said passing it over ‘’Mala never cried the day they executed her’’
‘’You were there?’’ the Curator asked him.
‘’With many others, they wanted to make an example of them both. Outside the kitchen in the square stood a gallows, there was sudden silence when Edek appeared at the cellblock door; behind him was his executioner, a man named Judd. He prodded Edek with his truncheon to move towards the noose, all we could hear was the crunch of heavy boots on the gravel beneath their feet as they walked. Edeks hands were bound with wire, his back was upright and firm and without hesitation he mounted the podium then stood on the stool that was beneath the rope. From his left an SS-man moved in front of him and began to read out his sentence in German from a piece of white paper he held in his hand. At that moment Edek placed his head through the noose and kicked away his stool and began to hang himself with considerable force. The SS-man was having no such demonstration and gestured to the Largercapo who grabbed Edeks waist loosened the rope and placed him back on the stool.
The SS-man continued to read out in his own Language and then in Polish until he had completed, Edek who had remained silent suddenly shouted out ‘Long live Po-‘ but before he could finish Judd had pulled the stool from under him. This time the noose tightened quickly and for a moment his body went ridged then went limp. It was then to the astonishment of the SS-man the order was shouted in Polish to remove all hats as a mark of respect to Edek. Both he and Judd were furious as to what was happening and then they began shouting ‘Alles Raus Wegtreten’-raus! Raus!-‘Everybody out, Dismissed!
Seconds later the courtyard was empty.’’
‘’And poor Mala?’’ Anna the Curator’s Secretary sniffed ‘’what of her?’’
‘’A similar execution was planned for her, one I could not attend but I spoke with a young Slovak woman who was there she told me ‘When she (Mala) was already on the platform, while the sentence was being read she slit her wrists with a razor blade she had hidden earlier, but like 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 literally trampled her to death before the eyes of the whole women’s camp, she died on the way to the crematorium’ that same Slovak woman was gassed a few days later’’
Kielar took a deep breath as if to compose himself and then turned to comfort young Anna who was sobbing into his handkerchief.
‘’And this artefact you have brought us?’’ the Curator asked him pointing at the small unfolded scrap of paper that Kielar had left sitting all the time on the table he was telling his story.
‘’The world must know of this, and identify with the love and courage these two people had for each other in the midst of the worst evil ever to come to us. I leave with you two locks of hair, one of Mala Zemetbaum and the other of Edward Galinski wrapped in and inscribed in German by him. It was given to me as his last request by Jupp Windeck who hanged Edek an hour after his death, I was asked to give them to his father, but I carried them with me from camp to camp to give me hope of freedom. Now I give them to you’’.
Kielar nodded that he had finished.
The Curator leaned across the table and switched off the recorder.
This is a true life story of love and death in the camps of Auschwitz & Birkenau. I have used were I could exact phrases from Wieslar Kielar’s own transcripts in this dramatization of the events that took place. some small changes were also made to allow me to condense the events into a shorter form. However, if you wish to read the full story of Mala, Edek and Kielar, the complete records of his memories along with others who were there please use this link by cutting and pasting in your browser.
I hope I have not offended anyone with this story this was not my intention. I would also like to thank the Auschwitz-Birkenau State museum for letting me use their site as research. Thank You
Will Neill June 25th 2015
Edited By Dianne Neill