Mala Zimetbaum, the first woman and the first Jewish woman to escape from Auschwitz-Birkenau, was born on January 26, 1918, in Brzesko, Poland In 1928, when she was ten years old, her family emigrated from Poland to Belgium, where they settled in Antwerp. Mala, a brilliant student, had to leave school because of the family’s economic situation—her father became blind—and work in a diamond factory

Mala was captured and sent to Auschwitz on September 17 1942. Of the 1,048 Jews who arrived in the camp on that day, 230 men and 101 women actually entered it after the selection. While in the camp, Mala met Edward (Edek) Galinski, and the two fell in love. Edek, born on October 5, 1923, was brought to Auschwitz as a Polish political prisoner. He arrived in the camp on June 14, 1940, in the first transport of Polish prisoners from Tarnow prison.

On June 24, 1944, Edek put on an SS uniform obtained from Edward Lubusch, an extraordinary SS man who helped prisoners, and Mala, who had managed to obtain a blank SS pass, dressed as a prisoner being led to work. Together, they escaped. On July 6, the two were captured by a border patrol in the mountains on the Slovakian border, returned to the camp, and placed in separate cells in Block 11, the punishment block. After interrogation and torture, they were taken to be hanged together.

As her sentence was read, Mala slit her wrists and slapped the SS officer who attempted to stop her. She was taken to the camp hospital in order to stop the bleeding. According to some eyewitness accounts, she died on the way to the crematorium. According to others, she was shot to death at the crematorium entrance. When Edek attempted to kick away the bench he stood upon, the SS present held him back. After his sentence was read, Edek shouted: “Long live Poland!” before the noose tightened around his neck.