Remember. August 23: Individual Stories

The European Remembrance and Solidarity Network marks the European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Totalitarian Regimes by carrying out an educational campaign "Remember. August 23". The aim of the project is to cultivate memory of the victims of Nazism, Stalinism and all other totalitarian ideologies, whom we strive to portray not as an anonymous collective, but individuals with their own distinctive stories and fates. By doing so, we also want to increase public awareness of the threats posed by extremist ideologies.

Since 2018, we have prepared three clips devoted to those who experienced totalitarian violence. Here are their stories.

Mala Zimetbaum and Edek Galiński


 

Mala (Mally) Zimetbaum was born in Brzesk (Poland) in 1918. At the end of the 1920s she emigrated together with his family to Antwerp (Belgium). In September 1942 she was arrested during a round up of Jews at the central station in Antwerp. Four days later she found herself in a transport to the Auschwitz concentration camp that arrived on 17 September. During a selection at the ramp she was sent to the Birkenau camp, where she received number 19880. Due to her knowledge of several languages she was hired at the women's camp as an interpreter and messenger.

In the spring of 1940, Edward (Edek) Galiński was arrested from among a group of middle school pupils during the "AB” campaign directed at the Polish intelligentsia. On 14 June 1940, he was brought to Auschwitz in the first transport of Polish political prisoners. During the registration process he received number 531. At the camp he worked, among others, at the ironworks and in a team of installers, first in the home camp, then at Birkenau.

Edek Galiński and Mala Zimetbaum, in carrying out their duties, had relative freedom to move around the camp. They met each other at the turn of 1943 and 1944 and fell in love. Galiński initially plans to escape with his friend, Wisław Kielar. Dressed in an SS uniform he was to escort his friend to work. He even secretly received a uniform and pistol from the former Kommandoführer of the ironworks, SS-Rottenführer Edward Lubusch. However, after meeting Mala Zimetbaum he also wanted her to escape from the camp. Ultimately, Kielar resigned from the escape that help the pair during their attempt.

On 24 June 1944, Galiński waited for Mala Zimetbaum in his SS uniform at their agreed-upon location. Using a blank pass for SS men that Mala stole and forged, they were able to exit outside the large guard cordon. After two weeks, however, they encountered a German patrol. The woman was detained. Galiński was able to escape because he managed to hide at the last moment. Nevertheless, he emerged from hiding and voluntarily surrendered to the Germans in order to be with his loved one.

They were sentenced to death after a lengthy and brutal investigation that failed to extract information from them on those helping them in the escape. Edward Galiński was hanged at the men's camp in Birkenau, whereas Mala Zimetbaum slit her wrists during the execution. Afterwards, she was transported to the crematorium and probably died en route from blood loss or was shot.

Péter Mansfeld


 

While still a child, Péter Mansfeld took part in the Hungarian revolution of 1956 in Budapest. He joined the rebel unit of János Szabó at Széna Square in Buda, one of the several strongest points of resistance of the insurgent National Guard. He acted as a messenger between various rebel units, transported leaflets as well as grenades and weapons at times and delivered drugs from Margaret's Hospital.

Growing repression and terror of the communists in December 1956 and January 1957 led to mass executions of Hungarian insurgents and deportation to work camps and prisons. The repression also affected insurgents known to Mansfeld from Széna Square, many of whom were hanged. Shortly thereafter, Mansfeld's was arrested. Mansfeld intended to free him from prison by force, as well as to revive the revolution. He formed a group that undertook various campaigns in 1958, among others, the kidnapping and disarming of a militiaman patrolling the area of the Austrian embassy.

In February 1958, Mansfeld was arrested together with four of his comrades. Prison conditions proved to be exceptionally difficult. The boys were interrogated at night and held in small dark cells. Péter, however, retained courage and a strong spirit. The prosecutor called the boy a class traitor and counterrevolutionary in calling for the maximum penalty.

On 21 November 1958, Mansfeld was given a life sentence. However, the People's Court in Budapest stiffened the sentence on 19 March 1959. The penalty was death. Péter Mansfeld was hanged on the morning of 21 March at barely the age of 18.

Juliana Zarchi


The video about Juliana Zarchi will be made available on 23 August 2019

Juliana Zarchi was born in Kaunas (Lithuania) in 1938 into a family with parents of different nationalities. Her father, Lithuanian of Jewish origin, Dr Mausha (Mauša) Zarchi met his future wife, Gerta Urchs, while working in Düsseldorf (Germany). As they could not marry in Third Reich due to Nazi racist legislation, in 1934 Gerta converted to Judaism and married Mausha in Lithuania, thus receiving a Lithuanian citizenship. Zarchis continued to live in Germany until 1937, when Mausha’s work permit was not extended. They decided to settle in Lithuania.

Two years after Juliana was born, the Second World War broke out. Lithuania was soon annexed by the Soviet Union, and then, when the Third Reich turned on its former ally and attacked USSR in 1941, the country was occupied by the Nazis. This is when Dr Zarchi decided to try to flee east as he assumed his Aryan-looking daughter and wife would have better chances of survival if he left. He was killed by the Einsatzgruppen, a fact of which his relatives learned only after the end of the war.

As a half-Jew, barely at the age of three, Juliana was sent to the Kaunas ghetto and forced to stay there for several months. She was smuggled out with the help of a family acquaintance, Pranas Vocelka. As her mother feared parting with her, Juliana spent almost the entire period of German occupation hidden in their house in the kitchen or in a small room next to it (only at the very end, she was taken to Carmelite sisters).

As the Soviet army re-entered Lithuania, Gerta hoped she would no longer have to fear for her daughter’s life. Instead, they were both deported to Tajikistan in Central Asia as part of a purge of ethnic Germans. They were stigmatized by the locals as ‘Fascists’ and forced to live and work in dire conditions.

While the repressions eased after the death of Stalin, the exile for Juliana and Gerta only ended in the early 1960s.

Juliana returned to Lithuania in 1962. She settled down and started to teach German at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas (she wanted to study medicine, but was denied the possibility due to being a deportee).

Gerta joined her daugher a year later. All her life, she tried to return to Düsseldorf, but was never allowed to leave the USSR. She died in Kaunas in 1991.

Today, Juliana lives in Kaunas and is a member of the Jewish community there. She regularly travels and gives talks about her and her family’s experience of the two dictatorships.

Other testimonies

Our videos are just some of innumerable distinctive stories of those who fell victim to totalitarian regimes of the 20th century.

There are many archives, including on-line collections, dedicated to sharing such testimonies.

Below we list some of the projects which can be found on-line:

Central Database of Shoah's Victims' Names, Yad Vashem
European Memories of the Gulag
Even Walls Have Ears
Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies
Freedom Fighter 56 Oral History Project
Memory of Nations
USHMM Survivor Reflections and Testimonies
Victims of Communism - The Witness Project