Most know Auschwitz as a place of death – where more than a million people were slaughtered by the Nazis during World War Two.
Women and children were often killed upon arrival at the camp, and those who survived suffered a life of starvation, forced labour, and infectious diseases.
Pregnant women were lured to the gas chambers with the promise of double rations if they came forward, and others were sought out as human experiments by the ‘Angel of Death’ Dr Josef Mengele.
But despite how bleak the future looked for women at the camp, a pair of incarcerated medics worked tirelessly to help their fellow prisoners survive the atrocities they endured.
It was Stanisława Leszczyńska’s selfless work that helped 3,000 women survive childbirth in a ward teeming with rats.
Thousands of others were saved from Dr Mengele’s experiments by Gisella Perl – who performed emergency abortions behind the Nazis’ backs without any tools or anesthesia.
These stories are testament to the small resistance of women who made it their mission to do the impossible inside a living hell.
The midwife who delivered 3,000 babies in squalid conditions despite being instructed to kill the children at birth
Stanisława Leszczyńska (pictured before the war) fought to save 3,000 babies in Auschwitz
Stanisława Leszczyńska delivered 3,000 babies during her two-year imprisonment at Auschwitz and, miraculously, it is believed all the mothers survived childbirth.
The midwife and her 24-year-old daughter Sylwia were transported to Auschwitz in 1943 after they were caught delivering false documents and food to ghettoized Jews in their former home of Łódź, Poland.
The pair were interrogated by the Gestapo and tattooed with prisoner numbers 41335 and 41336 before being sent to the camp, where they remained for two years.
Ms Leszczyńska was sent to work in the women’s hospital, or Revier, when SS doctors discovered she was a midwife – a structure she later described as ‘wooden barracks’ with ‘numerous gaps gnawed in the walls by rats.’
Most pregnant women at Auschwitz were sent straight to the gas chambers, but a select few waited out their pregnancy in squalid conditions at Ms Leszczyńska’s makeshift ward.
Looking after the patients was near impossible work – the barracks had no nappies, no water, and were teeming with vermin and rats.
The mother-of-four even admitted in a report given in 1957 that around 20 per cent of the ‘putrid, overcooked weeds’ which were the patients’ diet were made up of rat faeces.
Children who had lived to be liberated from the Auschwitz concentration camp in early 1945
Ms Leszczyńska said: ‘Women in labour went on the stove to give birth. I delivered over three thousand babies.
‘In spite of the appalling filth, the teeming vermin and the rats, in spite of the infection diseases, the lack of water and other dreadful, indescribable things, something that was most extraordinary went on there.’
The midwife said that until May 1943, the majority of babies born were drowned in barrels of water by two German ‘nurses’, Schwester Klara and Schwester Pfani.
The arrival of Hungarian Jews in Auschwitz-Birkenau, in German-occupied Poland, in June 1944
Mothers and their children step carefully out of the freight wagons that brought them to Oswiecim, Poland
But when Ms Leszczyńska heard what was expected of her on the ward, she refused.
It was she who reportedly told Dr Josef Mengele, a Nazi doctor known as the Angel of Death, ‘no, never, do not kill children!’ when she was ordered to do just that.
Instead, the midwife worked to save as many of the mothers and children as she could, despite knowing the infants would likely be killed in a matter of hours.
She said: ‘Each birth was followed by a loud noise of something gurgling coming from the room of these two, and then the sound of splashing water, sometimes for a fairly long time.
‘Not long afterwards the mother could see her baby’s body thrown out in front of the block and being pulled to pieces by rats.’
The ghastly end to these infant’s lives continued until May 1943, when blonde, blue-eyed children were instead taken from their mothers and sent to Nakło to be Germanised.
Two children in the medical station after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau in March 1945
Jewish women and children, some wearing the yellow Star of David patch on their chests, at Auschwitz concentration camp undergoing selections
Jewish children were not gifted the same mercy, and they continued to be drowned with ‘unrelenting cruelty.’ Others were allowed to survive, and instead those babes with ‘parchment-like skin’ more often than not starved to death in the camp.
But Ms Leszczyńska refused to give up her role, and did all she could to make the mothers and their newborns comfortable in what little life they had.
She baptized Christian children at birth, earning herself the affectionate nickname ‘mother.’
Of the 3,000 children Ms Leszczyńska delivered, it is believed at least half of them were drowned, 1,000 died of starvation, 500 were transported from the camp and around 30 survived.
Though the loss of life was great and terrible, it is also believed that all the mothers of all the newborns miraculously survived childbirth.
In early 1945, prisoners of Auschwitz were forced on a ‘death march’ to other camps by Nazis – but Ms Leszczyńska refused to leave.
After May 1943, children born with ‘Aryan’ traits were taken from Auschwitz at birth and sent to Nakło to be Germanised (pictured, a Lebensborn centre in Lamorlaye, France)
German woman carrying children believed to have blonde hair and blue eyes at a Lebensborn centre
Instead, she stayed at the camp until its liberation in January, when she was reunited with her sons Stanisław and Henryk.
Ms Leszczyńska returned to life as a midwife in Łódź after the war but would only discuss her time at Auschwitz when she retired in 1957.
The midwife said: ‘Among all these ghastly memories there is one thought that lingers in my mind. All the babies were born alive. They all wanted to live.’
She is now a candidate for sainthood in the Catholic church – though her selfless work in a living hell speaks for itself.
Female medic who saved thousands from Nazi doctor’s human experiments by performing emergency abortions behind his back
Gisella Perl, a Jewish gynecologist, was sent to Auschwitz in 1944. Here, she saved thousands of pregnant women from being experimented on by Dr Josef Mengele.
She performed emergency abortions without any tools and behind the Nazis’ back – and has since been dubbed the ‘Angel of Auschwitz’.
Gisella Perl, a Jewish gynecologist, she saved thousands of pregnant women from being experimented on by Dr Josef Mengele
Dr Perl and her family were forced into a ghetto before being transported to Auschwitz a year before the end of the war.
She became an inmate of the camp known as Auschwitz II, before being selected to work among a small team at the a makeshift hospital.
The gynecologist was soon told she would have no tools – and was instructed by Dr Mengele to alert him to any pregnancies in the camp.
The Nazi physician, known by inmates as the ‘Angel of Death’, performed deadly human experiments on prisoners at the death camp.
Dr Mengele saw the opportunity to conduct genetic research on human subjects when he was transferred to the Nazi death camp in 1943.
He was fascinated with twins and would perform grotesque medical experiments on them with little regard for their well being – often amputating limbs and intentionally infecting one twin with a disease.
In one case, he sewed the backs of two Romani twins together in a crude attempt to create conjoined twins.
Between May 2nd and July 9th 1944, more than 430,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz
These experiments broadened in scope as the war continued – and he began seeking out dwarfs, people with physical abnormalities and pregnant women.
‘Dr. Mengele told me that it was my duty to report every pregnant woman to him,’ she told the New York Times in 1982.
‘He said that they would go to another camp for better nutrition, even for milk. So women began to run directly to him, telling him, “I am pregnant.”
Dr Josef Mengele saw the opportunity to conduct genetic research on human subjects when he arrived at Auschwitz in 1943
‘I learned that they were all taken to the research block to be used as guinea pigs, and then two lives would be thrown into the crematorium.
‘I decided that never again would there be a pregnant woman in Auschwitz.’
Dr Perl went to extreme lengths to fulfill that promise.
She began to perform abortions behind Dr Mengele’s back – without any medical instruments or anesthesia.
It’s estimated the doctor performed at least 3,000 abortions throughout her year at the camp.
Though her actions did earn her critics, Dr Perl believed the abortions saved both the mother and unborn child from a great deal of pain.
Dr Perl survived the war and was granted a temporary visa to serve as a lecturer in the US, where she lived in New York.
Here, she became a specialist in infertility treatment at Mount Sinai hospital before moving with her daughter to Israel, where she died in 1988.