cover image of Remember. August 23: Individual Stories project

    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 ten clips devoted to those who experienced totalitarian violence. Here are their stories.

    Boris Romanchenko


    Boris Romanchenko (1926 – 2022) was a Ukrainian activist and survivor who endured the Buchenwald, Dora, and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. He was killed by Russian airstrikes during the Battle of Kharkiv, a tragic event that took place in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

    Romanchenko was born on 20 January 1926, in Sumy Oblast, Ukraine, which was already part of the Soviet Union at that time. His family narrowly survived the devastating famine of 1932-33, a result of Stalin’s criminal policy of forced collectivisation.

    On 22 June 1941, the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union and quickly overran much large parts of present-day Belarus, the Baltic States, and Ukraine. Over the next four years, the Nazi onslaught would claim the lives of an estimated 27 million Soviet citizens, including at least 5 million Ukrainians, among whom were nearly 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews.

    In 1942, at the age of 16, he was captured and deported to Dortmund in Nazi Germany, where he was subjected to forced labour in a coal mine. Following a failed escape attempt, he was interned at the Buchenwald concentration camp. He was later forced to work in the production of V-2 rockets at the Peenemünde Army Research Centre. He was subsequently transferred to the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp and was finally liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

    After the war, he initially worked for the Soviet military administration and then enlisted for service in the Red Army, where he was stationed in East Germany until 1950. Romanchenko returned to Soviet Ukraine at the age of 24. He pursued higher education in Kharkiv, becoming an engineer and working for a company involved in the production of agricultural technology.

    Having survived three Nazi concentration camps, Romanchenko actively shared his memories of those harrowing events and played a role in preserving the memory of the tragedies inflicted by the Nazis. He served as vice-president (representing Ukraine) of the International Committee of Former Prisoners of Buchenwald-Dora.

    By 2022, an estimated 42,000 survivors of totalitarian regimes were still alive in Ukraine, finding themselves caught amidst yet another horrifying situation. Many of them were too weak and too ill to seek refuge in bomb shelters.

    Boris Romanchenko was 96 years old and lived in the Saltivka area of Kharkiv when he fell victim to the Russian airstrikes on 18 March 2022. His home was nearly completely destroyed in the devastating attack. Commenting on Romanchenko’s death, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said: “Unspeakable crime. Survived Hitler, murdered by Putin”.

    Władysław Bartoszewski


    Władysław Bartoszewski (1922-2015) was a Polish historian, journalist, writer, politician, former Auschwitz concentration camp prisoner, the Second World War Resistance fighter, participant in the Warsaw Uprising, political prisoner during the communist era, Righteous among the Nations of the World.

    Bartoszewski was born in Warsaw on 19 February 1922. In September 1939 he took part in the civil defense of Warsaw, and from 22 September 1940, as a 18-year old, he was a prisoner at the German-Nazi Auschwitz concentration camp. Released after more than six months following the intercession of the International Red Cross, he became a soldier of the Home Army (Armia Krajowa), where he worked in the unit documenting Nazi crimes. He was also a member of ‘Żegota’, an underground organization providing aid to Jews in German-occupied Poland.

    After 1945, he was active as a journalist and politician, seeking to preserve parliamentary democracy and political pluralism in a communist-dominated Poland. Arrested twice, he was convicted on the false charges of espionage. He spent six and a half years in a Stalinist prison.

    Released from prison in 1954, he worked as a historian, researching the occupation period in Poland, and as a journalist. He was engaged in many opposition activities and in January 1976, as one of the first, Bartoszewski signed the letter of intellectualists protesting against the introduction of changes into the constitution of the People's Republic of Poland.

    He was a lecturer at the Catholic University of Lublin. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was the secretary general of the Polish PEN-Club. For many years he was a secret correspondent for Radio Free Europe. An activist of the opposition trade union ‘Solidarność’, he was interned on 13 December 1981 when martial law was imposed in Poland by the communist regime of General Wojciech Jaruzelski.

    After 1989 Bartoszewski held a number of public posts in Poland: he was twice the minister of foreign affairs, served as the Polish ambassador to Austria, and was elected a member of the Senate. During his last years he was the Prime Minister’s plenipotentiary for international dialogue. He was the chairperson of the International Council of the National Auschwitz Museum and council member of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. He supported the creation and activity of the ENRS.

    Władysław Bartoszewski died 7 years ago, on 24 April 2015, and left an exceptional legacy of moral values and humanity. He was a chevalier of the Order of the White Eagle and he was awarded the title of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. He was also an honorary citizen of Israel.

    He was one of the great cultural heroes both during and after the Second World War, from the struggles against tyranny through the process of renewing democratic systems, said Shevach Weiss, a former Israeli ambassador to Poland. His biography is our biography.

    Doina Maria Cornea


    Doina Maria Cornea (1929 – 2018) was a professor of French language, linguist, translator, human rights activist, and one of the most emblematic figures of the antitotalitarian opposition in Romania.

    Cornea was born in1929 in Braşov. Her teenage life was soon disturbed by the outbreak of the Second World War. The experience of living in occupied territory was both traumatizing and formative.

    After graduating from the Faculty of Philology at the Babeş-Bolyai University in Cluj, she began her teaching career: first in high school, and later in the Romanic Philology Department at her alma mater. As a professor, Cornea gradually started to modify the ideologically driven university curriculum by presenting to her students symbolistic and romantic poetry, Chateaubriand and Lamartine. Those first manifestations of disagreement with the prevailing ideology cost her the public critique by her colleagues.

    In 1965 Doina Cornea experienced the first contact with the free world, as she went on a summer school in Strasbourg, France. Back home, the ascension of Nicolae Ceaușescu has rekindled intellectuals' hopes for increased freedom. Yet, these hopes were not about to last. A few years later Cornea wrote to her daughter Ariadna about the atmosphere of the country under the regime:
    Something evil floats above us. It is unspeakably sad to hear that cultured people are stopped from speaking their thoughts and are persecuted for trying to fight for the better, for the more rigorous observance of human rights. The spiritual confinement we live in will lead the people to destructive sterility.... I am afraid for us.

    Literature became her weapon to oppose the system: she started translating into French and discussing during her classes works of dissidents, such as Paul Goma, or writers that were not included in the official curriculum. She translated Claude-Henri Rocquet's book of interviews with Mircea Eliade, ‘L'epreuve du Labyrinthe’ (The Trial of the Labyrinth) and managed to produce 100 copies that were circulated. She also published six different issues of a samizdat journal called ‘Ideas’ including translations from censored authors. As a result of those actions, she soon began to be subjected to surveillance.

    In 1982 her opposition became public and internationally known thanks to the Radio Free Europe, were her ’Letter to those who have not ceased to think’ was broadcasted. As a consequence, Cornea was interrogated and eventually removed from teaching. However, this did not stop her from fighting against the regime. Repeatedly being questioned and arrested, Cornea continued to write texts for youth, protesting letters and producing leaflets. They were smuggled to the West with the help of foreign diplomats or journalists. Written on thin cigarette paper and sewed on the head of a textile doll, two of her letters were handed over to Josy Dubié, a Belgian journalist that she coincidently met in the centre of Cluj. Later on, he presented the first footage of Doina Cornea in a documentary ‘Red Disaster’.

    After the fall of the regime, as the most prominent symbol of Romanian dissent, Doina Cornea was invited, both in Romania and abroad, to numerous meetings and conferences to deliver talks or to receive honours for her fight. She died in 2018 in Cluj-Napoca, at the age of 89.

    Milada Horáková


    Milada Horákova was born in Prague in 1901. Her father was a pencil factory owner. She went to a secondary school in Prague during the First World War and then she began studies at the law faculty of Charles University, exactly three years after the birth of the Czechoslovak Republic. She graduated in 1926 and became director of the welfare department for the Prague City Council. She joined the centre-left Czechoslovak National Socialist Party the same year. Since then, she was also an active member of various groups focusing on youth and women’s rights.

    Once the occupation of Czechoslovakia started in 1939, Milada Horáková and her husband Bohuslav Horák joined the resistance movement and were both arrested by the Gestapo in 1940. Horáková was imprisoned in the Gestapo prisons Pankrác and Little Fortress Terezín. In 1944, she was sentenced to eight years in prison. She was subsequently sent to the Ainach concentration camp near Munich, liberated by the Allied forces in May 1945, then she promptly returned to Prague.

    Horáková rejoined the National Socialist Party and became a Member of Parliament, until the communist power takeover in February 1948, when she resigned from her position. Soon, she was involved in efforts to re-establish democracy together with other former members of the National Socialist Party.

    Milada Horáková was arrested by the communist secret police in September 1949, along with many other former members of non-communist political parties, and with the help of two Soviet ‘advisors’ set about preparing a case against them. Although she was forced to confess some of the alleged ‘crimes’, she tried to courageously defend herself and her co-defendants during the trial.

    The trial of Milada Horáková and twelve others began on 31 May 1950. It was a show trial, based on Soviet ones staged during Stalin’s purges of the 1930s. On 8 June 1950, Horáková and three of her co-defendants were sentenced to death. Despite calls for clemency from such people as Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein, the Czechoslovak president Klement Gottwald confirmed their sentences.

    In the final letter to her sixteen-year-old daughter before the execution, she wrote: ‘When you realise that something is just and true, then be as resolute as to be able to die for it.’

    On the morning of 27 June 1950, Milada Horáková was executed by hanging.

    In subsequent trials based on the same model, more than six hundred people were sentenced across the country, including ten receiving death sentences.

    During the Prague Spring in 1968, she and her co-defendants were rehabilitated. Due to the Warsaw Pact invasion of August 1968, the rehabilitation process was not completed. Finally, one year after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, Milada Horáková was rehabilitated. In 1991, she was posthumously awarded the T. G. Masaryk Order, First Class by President Václav Havel.

    (after The Czech Radio)

    Jaan Kross


    Jaan Kross (19 February 1920–27 December 2007) was an acclaimed Estonian writer and a several-time Nobel Prize in Literature nominee. He suffered persecution and imprisonment by both Nazi German and Soviet totalitarian regimes but survived and wrote a number of books that became symbols of moral opposition to the oppression. He is considered a model of perseverance and the conscience of the Estonian people.

    Kross was born and grew up in Tallinn. He studied at Jakob Westholm Grammar School and then Law at Tartu University (1938–1945) where he became a lecturer in 1946.

    During his lifetime, Estonia was occupied first by the USSR (1940), then by Nazi Germany (1941–1944) and the USSR again (1944–1991). Although Kross tried to avoid being recruited to either enemy army, he was forced to work for the Germans as an interpreter. As he got caught sending information to the Estonian community exiled in Finland, he was imprisoned for six months until the Germans left the country.

    Under the USSR occupation, Kross resumed his studies at Tartu, but as an intellectual and fluent German speaker he was perceived a threat by the Soviets. The KGB arrested him in 1946 and sent to a Gulag camp in Vorkuta. He spent six years doing slave labour and two more as a deportee in northern Russia. He returned to his hometown Tallinn in 1954.

    During his imprisonment and exile, Kross composed poetry and also learnt by heart poems by his fellow inmates, saving their work from oblivion. Although his first literary attempts date back to his student times, it was only after he had come back from Russia that he became a professional writer. His debut collection of poems titled Söerikastaja (The Coal Enricher, 1958) earned him recognition as a poet who ‘renewed the content and form of Estonian poetry, giving it new directions’.

    Having made such an impact in the field of poetry, in the 1960’s Kross turned to prose and developed an original style he called the ‘psychological character novel’. As other writers in Soviet-depended countries, Kross sets his short stories and novels in the distant past to avoid the prescribed genre of socialist realism. The most famous works of this stage of his career include Under Clio’s Gaze (1972), Between Three Plagues (four volumes from 1970 to 1980) and The Tsar’s Madman (1978). Playing cat and mouse with censors who knew little about Estonian history and did not understand language well enough, Kross managed to allude in his historical plots to the problems and moral dilemmas citizens of totalitarian states face.

    After Estonia regained independence in 1991, Kross held some public functions (he was a co-author of the Constitution of Estonia), received many domestic and international literary prizes, including several nominations to the Nobel Prize in Literature, and lectured in Tartu about his work. He also published semi-biographical novels like Treading Air (1998) or Tahtamaa Farm (2001). Although these books deal with Estonia’s 20th-century history, the protagonists’ ethical conflicts remain at the heart of the stories.

    His importance for the Estonian nation was best summarised by President Toomas Hendrik Ilves who gave eulogy at Kross’ funeral in 2007. He described the writer as ’ of those who kept fresh the spirits of the people and made us ready to take the opportunity of restoring Estonia’s independence'.


    Elic. Estonian Literature Centre
    The Guardian
    The Baltic Times

    Ieva Lase


    Ieva Lase (1916-2002), was a Latvian translator, member of the national resistance movement, dissident and political prisoner.

    She was born in Moscow, where her family had been evacuated during the First World War. However, after its independence had been proclaimed in 1918, the family managed to return to Latvia.

    From a young age, Ieva developed an interest in the French language and in 1934 she enrolled in the Faculty of Philology and Philosophy at the University of Latvia to study the romance languages.

    After the outbreak of the Second World War, Ieva quickly became involved in the national resistance movement by helping to publish the anti-Nazi leaflet ‘Tautas Balss’ [Voice of the People]. In 1942, she was arrested by the Gestapo and spent six months in the Central Prison. Shortly thereafter, from June 1943 to the beginning of June 1944, Ieva was detained in the Salaspils Labour Camp (‘Extended Police Prison and Labor Education Camp’).

    After the second Soviet occupation of Latvia began in 1944, Ieva started to work as a teacher of the French language and Western literature. She became of interest to the secret police, the Čeka: she was interrogated and eventually imprisoned in Riga. After six weeks of detention, she was released and started to regularly attend meetings devoted to French literature and theatre, organized in the apartment of the actors Irma and Arnolds Stubaus. Unfortunately, in January 1951, all 13 members of the ‘French Group’ were arrested and accused of bourgeois nationalism and participation in anti-Soviet meetings. Ieva Lase was sentenced to 25 years in prison and deportation to forced settlements in the USSR. However, three years after Stalin’s death, in 1956, she was released from the camp and was able to return to Latvia. Thereafter, she began to work as a translator, mostly of French literature. Among her translations are Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s ‘The Little Prince’ (1960), Pierre Gamarra’s collection of short stories ‘Hands of the People’ (1963) and many others.

    For her fortitude in the face of repressions implemented by those two totalitarian regimes, Ieva Lase was awarded the French Order of the Arts and Literature (1993) and the Latvian ‘Order of Three Stars’ (1999). She died in Riga in 2002, at the age of 86. Recalling her experiences, Ieva Lase once said:

    My father taught me that you should never harm a person, because that will always come back to you. I still stick to this teaching. And, life has shown that these principles are right. I have not deliberately wished harm on anyone, including on my interrogators and guards. Yes, this does not come on its own, but it requires great, conscious, spiritual work. I didn't try to accumulate hate in myself. I thought [to myself], let them do what they do, I'll stick to my own.

    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.

    Kazimierz Moczarski


    Kazimierz Moczarski was born in Warsaw in 1907. He graduated with a degree in Law from the University of Warsaw in 1932, having undergone military service. After continuing his studies at the University’s School of Journalism, Moczarski went to Paris to study international law at the Institut des Hautes Études Internationales for two years. Later, he worked at the Ministry of Social Affairs dealing with legislation concerning working conditions.

    During the German occupation, Moczarski was an active member of the Home Army, working in the Bureau of Information and Propaganda as head of the Investigation Division in the Resistance. One of the actions he organised was taking over a dozen prisoners from an armed hospital in June 1944. During the Warsaw Uprising, he was in charge of one of the four radio stations he set up himself as well as the editor of Wiadomości Powstańcze [Insurgence News] (the daily newspaper of the Uprising). He was awarded the Golden Cross of Merit for his activity back then. After the total destruction of Warsaw by the Germans, Moczarski re-activated the Home Army information and propaganda centres in Cracow and Częstochowa.

    In August 1945, Moczarski was arrested by the new communist authorities launching a campaign seeking to eradicate all potential opposition. In 1946, Moczarski was sentenced to ten years in jail, later reduced to five years. In 1949, at the height of Stalinism, a new round of interrogations started against Moczarski and finally he was sentenced to death in 1952. In a letter to the court, Moczarski lists 49 methods of torture used against him. His confinement with the German SS commander Jürgen Stroop during that period was one of the methods applied by his oppressors trying to break his will. In Conversations with an Executioner, Moczarski mentions Stroop’s walks, parcels from home, personal library and right to receive and send letters, all privileges denied to him. After Stalin’s death in 1953, Moczarski’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment but he was not informed of that for another two and a half years.

    In April 1956, Moczarski was released after spending eleven years in prison and rehabilitated six months later. After his release, Moczarski worked as a journalist for many years. He also adroitly used the margins of available freedom to champion various social causes. In 1968, he was removed from his job when he spoke out in defence of his Jewish colleagues at the time when the Communist Party staged anti-Semitic purges.

    Kazimierz Moczarski died in 1975.

    The famous Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert dedicated his poem ‘Co widziałem’ (What I witnessed) to Kazimierz Moczarski.

    (after The Kazimierz and Zofia Moczarski Foundation)

    “Conversations with an Executioner” by Kazimierz Moczarski

    On 2 March 1949 Kazimierz Moczarski, a former member of the resistance, was locked into a Polish jail cell already occupied by two profoundly sinister men. One of them, Gustav Schielke, had been a former policeman and later a low-level officer in the SS. The other was Jűrgen Stroop, an SS general and the liquidator of the Warsaw Ghetto whom Moczarski had once tried to kill. For 255 days Moczarski shared a small cell with the mass murderer. His Stalinist jailers thought that this would break him. Instead, as both men were convinced they would be condemned to death, they were able to talk believing that neither would break any confidences. This book is the record of these prison conversations. Moczarski charts the events that caused a seemingly unexceptional German youth to become a passionate Nazi, an unswerving follower of Hitler and Himmler and, at various times, the SS overlord in Greece, the Ukraine and Czechoslovakia. The book largely retains the original conversational tone, increasing still further the drama of the situation. Moczarski is not merely a passive chronicler, but, as a witness to Stroop’s crimes, remains an aggressive opponent and continues to pursue Stroop’s replies. Schielke, the third man in the cell, provides a different perspective – that of the German mixed up in the Nazi world. Schielke thus is frequently critical of Stroop and his colleagues and has his own stories to tell. The major section of the book is a day-by-day account of the Nazi liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. Stroop had been specially groomed for this task and he was sent to Warsaw to carry it out. Already hundreds of thousands of Jews had been sent to the extermination camps – now the Nazis wanted to remove the last remaining Jews from Warsaw. Himmler was only expecting the “Grossaktion” to last a few days, but because of the bravery of the Jews, galvanised by the Jewish Fighting Organisation, it lasted nearly a month. Even after this, when Stroop symbolically dynamited the Great Synagogue, some Jews fought on for many months. Stroop admits that about 70,000 Jews were killed as a result of his action. The SS General has, however, great respect for his enemy, even though he still stresses that German scientists have shown that Jews are not human beings, having different blood and tissue from the rest of humanity. Moczarski’s background as both a lawyer and a journalist equipped him perfectly for his role and his eye for detail and fluency resemble the style of Kapuscinski. Numerous theatrical and radio performances testify to the dramatic power of the book, which is added to by Moczarski’s occasional confrontations with Stroop and by his touches of irony. “Conversations with an Executioner” then reads very easily, but remains one of the most illuminating titles ever published on the nature of Nazis.

    If seldom are biters bit, how much more rarely are executioners executed? On such rare case here recounted in baleful detail, is that of Nazi General Jurgen Stroop, Hitler’s liquidator of the Warsaw Ghetto in World War II and a man who calmly sent thousands to their deaths in concentration camps. After his capture Stroop shared a cell with a low-level German prison-of-war and Polish resistance fighter Kazimierz Moczarski. For 255 days the three man discussed the war, their attitude to life and death, the Nazis’ determination to extirpate Jews from the face to the earth, and Hitler’s grandiose plan to reorder mankind along Germanic-Nordic lines. […] All in all these long conversations let one enter into the darkness of the Nazi mind as no other book does that I can recall.

    John Barkham New York Review of Books

    An extraordinary document….a book whose scope equals the message of a Solzhenitsyn.

    La Nouvelle Republique

    One of the most astonishing portraits of a Nazi leader which we have... (it) brings us what no other document can: the truth which comes from a long look at oneself under another’s eye.

    La Quinzaine Litteraire

    The main source for an understanding of Stroop’s personality is a posthumously published book by Kazimierz Moczarski,” Conversations with an Executioner” (“Gespräche mit dem Henker”)

    Introduction to the Stroop Report Secker Warburg, 1980

    ...without precedence in our literature, and who knows, maybe without precedence in the literature of other countries.

    Kazimierz Wyka Professor of Literature, Jagiellonian University, Kraków

    Immerse yourselves, I beg you, in the words of Jürgen Stroop, who is the classic case of a mind captivated by the totalitarian way of thought. Reading “Conversations with an Executioner” understand the fate of Kazimierz Moczarski, a man who never gave up, who was ready to die in order to protect others from a wretched life under any totalitarian regime.

    Introduction to the German edition

    Juliana Zarchi

    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 daughter 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.

    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 her 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.

    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