The story of rescue Ziva Garini by Wala Konowska

My mother, Ziva Garini, was born on 4 November 1923 in Rawa Mazowiecka. Her parents, Jakub Aaharon and Miriam Gitel Janowski were also born in Poland. Prior to the outbreak of WWII they led a happy life with their 6 children. They were Jewish, but they also felt they were Polish patriots.

When the war broke out, their living conditions worsened progressively. Grandfather Jakub was murdered two days after Germans had entered the town, his only fault was being a member of the Jewish kahal. In March 1941 the family was transferred to the ghetto which had been established in Rawa Mazowiecka. Living conditions in the ghetto were horrendous. My grandma died of illness in the ghetto.

My mum, who was 16 at the time, was left completely alone. Despite difficult circumstances, she somehow managed to cope. She was also rather lucky. She succeeded at reaching the Warsaw ghetto where the remaining members of her family resided. She stayed there until the final liquidation of the ghetto, when Germans set the last remaining houses on fire. She jumped out of a building on fire. She survived. She was caught and deported to the death camp in Majdanek, and from there to Auschwitz.

She reached Auschwitz on the same transport as her sister Zehava, aunt Estera and their friend. When they got off the train, they saw a Polish woman they had known from Rawa Mazowiecka amongst a crowd of people. My mum’s sister, who knew her name, shouted: “Wala Konowska!”. The woman looked surprised, but after a while she recognized the Janowski sisters and Estera. Wala Konowska was a political prisoner in Auschwitz. She was about 24 years old, and active in the underground. One day someone denounced her and her husband and they were captured by Germans. In Auschwitz, Wala worked at the office, in slightly better conditions than other prisoners.

While at the camp, Wala kept in touch with my mum and her relatives. She told them: “As long as I am alive, you do not need to fear anything. Do not worry. You will be sent for a 3 week long quarantine now. This is beyond my control, but afterwards I will help you”.

The women went through the quarantine, which meant hard physical labour. When they returned, Wala managed to move them to ‘Canada’, namely to barracks in which prisoners’ belongings were being sorted before being sent to Germany. Work conditions were better there than in other places. In ‘Canada’, women searched for valuables amongst the clothes and then handed whatever they had found to the wardens.

Around that time my mum came down with scarlet fever. She ended up at the camp hospital. Dr Mengele used to visit the hospital on a daily basis to select patients for his experiments. Normally he chose those who were laying on the bottom level of bunk beds. When Wala found out that my mum was at the hospital, she immediately intervened with a prisoner functionary, as a result of which my mum was put on the third, highest level of a bunk bed, which saved her life.

The commander of the block told my mum: “When Mendele arrives, pretend you are asleep. Do not move until he leaves”. That lasted for 3 weeks.

Luckily, my mum lived to see the Russians liberate Auschwitz. She walked in the Death March for several days, and then was transported to Germany by train, where she was a forced laborer at an ammunition factory. When the war ended, she was freed and together with a group of Jews emigrated to Sweden.

She lived in Sweden for several years, working at a crèche. In 1949 she left for Israel, where she met my father. They got married and settled in Haifa. My father passed away in 1992 and my mum in 2012.

Alas, we do not know what happened to Wala Konowska. It is not clear if she survived Auschwitz, or what happened to her after the liberation. I would like to find her family or anyone who may know what happened to this brave woman who had saved my mum’s life at the death camp.