Monday, October 27, 2008

Can You Help Us Find "The Girls from the Heart"?

"The Heart of Auschwitz" is a small handmade booklet in the shape of a heart, on display at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial and Center. It has been made by a group of former Auschwitz female inmates for the 20th anniversary of their friend Fania Landau, on December 12th, 1944. Those girls were forced laborers at the Union Metalwerks factory in Auschwitz, which was manufacturing explosives and ammunitions. They were working 12-hours shifts, in the harshest conditions. Nonetheless, when a girl among their team named Zlatka Sznajderhaus came up to them with the idea of doing something special for Fania's birthday, they all joined in.

In the small booklet cut and tied together by Zlatka, each one of them added a special wish for Fania. The gift was given to Fania along with a small birthday cake made from their daily bread ration. It became Fania's most precious possession. She achieved in keeping it with her, through the Death March, in Ravenbrück and Malchöw, and when she resettled in Canada. A few years ago she donated the book to the Montreal Holocaust Memorial and Center, where it sits today in a glass case.

This inspiring story will be told in a documentary film currently produced by Ad Hoc Films, a Montreal (Canada) production company. This film will be broadcast by Canadian public television in 2009.

For the purpose of this film, an extensive research has been launched a few months ago in Europe, America and Israel to retrace those women who signed in the Heart. What makes this task extremely complicated is that, as we would do ourselves when addressing a friend, they only signed with their first names...

So far, this research has been conducted on several different levels, with historians, at institutions such as USHMM in Washington or with Yad Vashem in Israel and other national and local museums and associations. But nothing can replace individual knowledge, or friends and family networks.

We need all available help to locate these women. Would you happen to know a former female forced laborer in Auschwitz? Do you know an ex-Auschwitz inmate bearing or having bore one of the first names listed below? - keep in mind that many people changed their name with emigration. If you are interested in helping us further, you can also send the link to this site to people you know, or to associations and groups.

We are also interested in getting in touch with those women's families, or with other former Union forced laborers.

Feel free to contact us at, if you need further information, or if you think you might know something helpful. You will also find our full address in the "about Ad Hoc Films and Catherine Pelchat" section. Even tiny bits of information can lead to an essential breakthrough!

You can also leave a comment, if you wish.

With our deepest gratitude,

Catherine Pelchat

Who Were They?

Here are the first names the girls have signed in the Heart. With their name, you will find the language of their message, and the tiny bits of information that were gathered from the ones already retraced.

Has written her greetings in Polish.

Has written her greetings in Polish.

Has written her greetings in French.
Added “Pany” beside her signature (could be her last name).

Has written her greetings in Polish.

Has written her greetings in Polish.

Has written her greetings in Polish,
along with Tonia (see below).

Has written her greetings in Polish.

Has written her greetings in Polish.

Has written her greetings in French.
Added “Lena” below her signature.

Has written her greetings in Polish.
Could be from Warsaw and a young woman: was worrying for her boyfriend.

Has written her greetings in Polish.

Has written her greetings in Polish.
Added "Mira" or "Mina"

NZ or NM
Has written her greetings in Hebrew.
We know that one of them was a Palestinian who got arrested while travelling to France. It might be her. Could also be a Greek Jew.

Has written her greetings in Polish.

Has written her greetings in German.
Was a German Jew.

Has written her greetings in Polish,
along with Guta or Gûsia.

The following ones have already been retraced:

Bronia Farber (nee Shiner)

Mina Goldberg

Zlatka Pitluk (nee Sznajderhaus)


Those 19 girls were united in a work team at the Union Metalwerke factory, located near Auschwitz main camp (Auschwitz I). This factory became operational October 1st, 1943. It was supposed to be run by Krupp, but was finally given to Weichsel Union Metalwerke, a privately-owned German company. It produced detonators and ammunitions. Its workers were Auschwitz inmates who were rented by the SS to the factory. It "employed" roughly 1,000 women and an unknown number of men, working in a separate area.

Most female workers of "the Union" (as it came to be known among the camp) were first registered in Birkenau upon their arrival and selection for work. In some cases, they first worked in various kommandos and were later picked up to work at the Union. Others were selected right away after quarantine for the Union kommando.

From October 1st, 1943 to October 1st, 1944, they stayed officially registered with Birkenau camp, where they had to get back to sleep after their shift. This meant a few kilometers walk each day. For unkown reasons, the SS decided to transfer them to a new barrack that had been built nearer the factory. The transfer was official October 1st, 1944, when they were all registered anew, this time with Auschwitz I camp, and taken to those new barracks.

About the women we are looking for, we know that at some point, in December 1944, they were working together at quality control of the ammunitions produced in the factory. They spent their shift around a big table, in a team of approximately twenty women.

The particulars of the Union have scarcely been studied, except for one exceptional book by US historian Lore Shelley. Some of its workers became famous in relation with the Sonderkommandos uprising, in October 1944. Three girls from the factory had been smuggling gunpowder in support to that projected rebellion. As the uprising actors were captured, those girls' names were extorted and they ended up being hanged in December 1944 or January 1945, to the horror of their workmates.

On January 18th, 1945, the Union female workers were evacuated from Auschwitz with the Death March, along with mostly all valid prisoners. After a few days of walking, they were taken by train to Ravensbrück camp, where they were expected to fill up work posts in other war factories. They arrived in Ravensbrück at the end of January or the beginning of February, 1945.

In the confusion of evacuation, far too much women were transferred to Ravensbrück from various other camps. The place got severely overcrowded. The inmates were submitted to Appels, which means that there is a sad possibility that some of the ones we are looking for were gassed upon their arrival, or shortly afterwards. Within the following weeks, most of the former Union female workers were transferred to Ravensbrück subcamps such as Malchöw or Neustadt-Glewe. Many of them were still detained in those subcamps when they were liberated in April, 1945.

In the 1990s, a legal suit was filed against Germany by a Union former workers committee, led by Mrs. Lidia Vago (who has provided unvaluable help to our researches). It achieved in securing a small indemnity for its members.

Some Photos of the Heart

Click on a picture to get a larger view.

© Montreal Holocaust Memorial Center