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#tomorrowwillbe better - Singing Malina

In the torrid reality of Majdanek camp, the prisoners longed for any aesthetic experiences. Singing and chanting were among the cultural activities that were meant to fulfil these needs, help the inmates cope with their struggle, and give them hope for a better tomorrow.

The prisoners not only performed the commonly known songs they remembered from before their incarceration, but also wrote their own pieces. For the inmates it was both a measure to uplift the spirits and a source of escape from the camp reality.

“We shared songs and chants just like we shared bread” – as reminisced by a former prisoner of Majdanek, Krystyna Tarasiewicz. Many women imprisoned in Konzentrationslager Lublin particularly remembered Maria “Malina” Bielicka and her exceptional performances of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria.”

Maria Belicka-Szczepańska was an actress and an opera singer born in 1909, Warsaw. She graduated from the Warsaw Conservatory. On August 19, 1943 she was arrested by the Gestapo and as a member of the resistance incarcerated in the Pawiak prison. On January 17, 1943, Maria Belicka was deported to Majdanek concentration camp, where she performed maintenance work in the infirmary. She performed “Ave Maria” the very first evening she spent in the camp barracks with other women deported from the Pawiak prison. She continued to perform it every evening, both in the barracks and in the infirmary, together with many other cheerful songs and chants.
In a secret letter to Maria Belicka, the patients of the infirmary humorously requested her performance:

“As we yearn for spiritual nourishment we humbly ask for your presence and singing a few pieces in the infirmary. We strongly believe that the Lager-Obersinger will not reject our demands and thus with our hearts beating we await for her arrival.”

Maria Bielicka understood how important her performances were for the inmates. She realised that with the power of her voice she could shape the attitudes and influence bonds between the female prisoners of Majdanek. That is why she never declined any requests for her performance. She reminisced about her activity in the following way:

“It seems to me that this is what matters the most: to find something beautiful, something magnificent in every situation, every moment of our lives. Something that would shield our inner selves from the surrounding disdain and feral cruelty. Ever since I eased on the conflict with my song for the very first time, I started to appreciate songs and music even more than before. I learned that in the hour of everyone’s crisis and weakness, misdeeds and aggression can be tamed with art. It may seem strange but, just like we did at Majdanek, sometimes you have to start with something simple, something sentimental. Only then you move on the more striking pieces. Those that will touch the soul, fortify the spirits, motivate to resist and fight to the very end, however tragic this end could be.”

Majdanek was not the only camp on her war trail. The singer was deported to KL Auschwitz on April 12, 1944. Then, she was transferred to KL Ravensbrück and Neustadt-Glewe. After the war, Maria Bielicka acted at the Syrena Theatre in Łódź and at Warsaw Operetta. She continued her singing and acting career until her retirement in 1970.

“Singing has always been my passion and my destiny. That is why it not only pleased the audience but was also a pleasure to myself” – as she reminisced.

Maria Belicka-Szczepańska passed away in 1989, in Warsaw.



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