Page last updated at 13:31 GMT, Thursday, 26 January 2006

'There was good among the evil'

By Krista Beighton
BBC News

Holocaust Memorial Day is being marked across the world on Friday under the theme "one person can make a difference".

Mala, centre top, with her five cousins
Mala, top centre, with her cousins before the war

Aged nine, Mala Tribich was among thousands of Jews forced into the Piotrkow-Trybunalski ghetto in Poland at the start of World War II.

By 1945, she had been deported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

She spoke to the BBC News website about the moment she came close to death and how a direct appeal to one of her Nazi captors made the difference that saved her life.

The ghetto policeman

We were in a room with a lot of other people. My father and brother were at work and I was there with my mother and sister.

Suddenly, the police stormed in. They took everybody. I was in bed - not because I was ill, but because it was so crowded.

My mother told the policeman in charge I wasn't well. He said 'that's fine' and I could stay behind.

They were rounding people up from all over the ghetto and taking them to the synagogue. They were being guarded by Ukrainian soldiers.

Sometimes they used to shoot into the building through the window - wounding people and killing people for no reason at all.

After a week they took them out in groups of 50, at dawn. The first group had to dig their own grave and the grave for the next group. Each group dug the grave for the next.

Then they were shot. That is how I lost my mother and sister.

The Nazi

They took all the people to be deported outside the barbed wire [of the ghetto] and lined them up.

People who had jobs were inside because they were safe. But we were to be taken away. We were surrounded by guards pointing rifles at us.

Mala moved to Britain after the war
Mala moved to Britain after the war
I don't know what gave me the idea, never mind the courage, but I got out of line and walked up to the Nazi in charge. I said that I had been separated from my father and brother and could I go back to them.

He was flabbergasted that I had the nerve to even speak to him. He just smiled. He called over a policeman and said 'take her back inside'.

Maybe he had a 12-year-old at home and was thinking of his own child. Who knows?

I can't remember what made me do it. I can hardly believe it myself. It became a kind of legend among the people there - what I did.

The nurse and doctor at Belsen

The main camp is something beyond description. There was a terrible stench of burning flesh. The crematorium could not cope with all the bodies so they were burning them in pits.

People were so emaciated, they looked like skeletons. They would be walking along and just drop dead.

I heard there was a children's barracks. We found it and we were interviewed by two women - Dr Bimko and Sister Luba. They took us in.

That was one of the things that saved my life, because I don't think we would have survived in the main camp.

Even with all the protection of the children's barracks, I still contracted typhus.

One day, I was lying on my bunk at the window and I could see people running. My only thought was how can they have the strength to run?

It dawned on me very gradually. It must be the end of the war. It must be liberation.

Good among evil

In each of the situations I would have gone to my death, most certainly.

It just makes me realise there is some goodness in everybody. Nobody is entirely bad.

Among all this evil there was some good somewhere that has helped people.

Mala moved to the UK with her brother after the war and now lives in north London

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