Born near Nowy Sacz, Maria Kotarba had worked as a courier with the Polish resistance before being caught and transported to Auschwitz on 6 January 1943. As a political prisoner, Maria was put to work in the camp in the Rajsko gardening Kommando.
One day, Maria met Lena Lakomy, a “nurse” escorting sick prisoners to the camp infirmary. Lena had been registered in the camp as a non-Jewish Pole, on account of her non-Jewish looks. One day, Maria clandestinely joined the group of sick prisoners in order to smuggle contraband medicines from the local resistance to prisoner-doctors in the infirmary. She joined Lena’s sick group often after that, and as their friendship grew, she would visit Lena in the barracks at night and cook vegetable soup from vegetables smuggled from the SS garden she worked in. She also helped Lena’s sister Guta and other Jewish prisoners - despite the personal risk, as well as protests from fellow Polish prisoners that she was helping Jews rather than Polish Christians.
Maria helped Lena in many ways, often at great peril: she provided sandwiches for Lena in the week she was interred in a punishment cell, and organized to have her transferred to lighter duties when she had been delegated to the “River Kommando,” where the arduous work of extracting gravel from rivers was sure to kill her. Maria also smuggled food and milk to Guta through a third party, Henia Szainberg.
In January 1945, when Maria and Lena were transferred to the Ravensbruck concentration camp, Maria found a place for them in the French block of the already overcrowded barracks. She continued to help Lena when they were transported to the sub-camp Neustadt-Glewe in February 1945.
After the Red Army liberated them on 2 May 1945, they parted without Maria asking for any recompense. Lena attempted to find Maria after the war but was unsuccessful until 1997, when she learned that Maria had died in 1956.
In September 2005 Yad Vashem recognised Maria Kotarba as Righteous Among the Nations.