Danuta Brzosko-Mędryk was born in the Polish town of Pultusk near Warsaw on 4 August 1921. In 1935, the family moved to Warsaw, where Danuta attended Queen Jadwiga grammar school, until she was banned from going to school following the German invasion in 1939. However, she continued her schooling illegally and at the same time joined the conspirative scout movement and the “Association for Armed Struggle“ ZWZ (”Związek Walki Zbrojnej“). Her ambition was to become a medical doctor or an author. In the summer of 1940, she was arrested together with class mates and teachers and sent to the Pawiak prison of the secret state police of the Nazis [Gestapo] in Warsaw. After three weeks, she was released and detained again in the summer of 1942.
In January 1943, Danuta Brzosko was relocated from the Pawiak prison to the Majdanek concentration camp. Together with other “political“ inmates, she founded the illegal “radio Majdanek“, which provided information to the inmates and helped organise solidarity among them. In April 1944, she was transferred to the Ravensbrück concentration camp for women. From there, she was moved to Leipzig in June 1944, and sent to the newly established “HASAG Leipzig“ concentration camp, the largest satellite camp for women of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
The more than 5,000 female inmates of that concentration camp were housed in a converted factory building in the street now known as Kamenzer Straße near the factory premises of the arms manufacturer HASAG. They had to perform forced labour for the company, producing ammunition and anti-tank rocket launchers [Panzerfausts] during their 12-hour shifts. While there, Danuta Brzosko participated in sabotage activities:
”We deliberately damaged the machines, explaining that we didn’t know how to operate them. We poured oil into the precision tools, threw wood chips into the threads and produced junk – but the Polish control allowed it to pass.“ (Quote from her book titled “Matylda“)
A rich cultural life evolved in the camp as well:
”Exhausted after a twelve-hour work day and the roll calls, we gathered in the secret corners of the barracks, the basements [...] in our spare time, to teach others, to educate ourselves, to jot down poems and songs onto stolen paper using a contraband pencil. Our cultural performances arose from these meetings. [...] These performances enabled us to break away from reality, to show the cultural heritage of our peoples, thereby strengthening the solidarity between the nations. We were able to demonstrate that we were free in spirit, although unjustly enslaved.“ (Speech on the occasion of the 51st anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald, April 1996)
Liberation and Post-War Era
When the camp was vacated in April of 1945, she was sent on a death march across Saxony together with other inmates and was finally freed by Canadian troops near the town of Wurzen on 26 April 1945.
Danuta Brzosko-Mędryk returned to Poland and became a dentist. At the same time, she started writing novels, inspired mainly by her memories of the concentration camp and the war (and which regrettably have not been translated into German): ”Niebo bez ptaków“ (”The sky without birds“), ”Matylda“ and ”Powiedz mojej córce“ (”Tell it to my daughter“). Later, she also wrote film scripts. She was a member of the Polish Writer’s Guild and played an active role in the peace movement. She served as witness in several processes against National Socialist criminals, such as in the Majdanek process in Düsseldorf among others. She won multiple awards for her efforts, including the Commandery with Star of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland and the Aachen Peace Prize in 1989. In addition, she was involved in the Majdanek Memorial and in the International Committee of Buchenwald-Dora and the satellite camps, where she represented the former female inmates of the Buchenwald concentration camp from 1996 to 2001.
Danuta Brzosko-Mędryk returned to Leipzig time and time again. In September of 1988, she gave a speech at the Augustusplatz Square (at the time known as Karl-Marx Square) on the occasion of the “Day of Remembrance for Victims of Fascist Terror” in front of thousands of attendees:
“Standing before you is a woman who was robbed of three years of her youth and health because of fascism. During these years, my companions and I had been committed to the Pawiak prison in Warsaw and later to the Majdanek, Ravensbrück and Buchenwald concentration camps as well as to this Schönefeld satellite c amp. I participated in the death march, which lead us through Oschatz to the town of Wurzen. You may want to know why we were put behind bars. The answer is simple: because we wanted to learn. Polish youth had been banned from schooling by the fascists, and secret learning and studying was punished with imprisonment.“
She concluded with the following words:
“Dear friends! I wish all of you, the oldest and the youngest among you, a life beneath friendly skies and that you may never be rudely awoken by the detonation of bombs. May the children on this earth forget the word “hatred” and always experience nothing but love and friendship!”