The Romeo and Juliet of Auschwitz


malaThe story of two daring Polish prisoners who escaped from Auschwitz is unfolding at Google Cultural Institute, an online museum.

The institute partners with museums to share art and historical archives. Highlighted this month are Edek Galiński and Mala Zimetbaum, a charming and cheerful political prisoner and a clever and kind Jewish woman who fell in love at the Nazi death camp.

You can see their story frame by frame as if walking along a museum exhibit, courtesy of Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

Edek was 20. The “very beautiful” Mala about 26. Their love and courage became a legend in Auschwitz, “a symbol of the victory of good over evil, of what is human over what is bestial. They gave us hope,” recalls a survivor of the death camp.

On June 24, 1944, Edek in an SS uniform and Mala, pretending to be his prisoner, fled.

Their days of freedom were short. On July 6, they were captured on the Slovakia border, brought back to the camp and tortured. They were to be executed simultaneously 69 years ago this month.

Edek shouted “Long live Pol(and)!” at his hanging. Mala defied her SS guard, slapped him and slit her wrists as she was about to be taken to the gallows.

Mala is credited with saving many lives while she was forced to serve as a translator at the camp. But, one writer notes, “there are no monuments, no postage stamps, no streets” named in her honor.

You can visit the virtual exhibit devoted to Edek and Mala here.