When we talk about Nazi concentration camps, we think straight away to the Jewish families, collective victims of a criminal ideology of an entire nation. It is not vane to remember that the Nazi party wanted to destroy both the gipsy community and other East-European populations, the homosexual, disabled, Jehovah’s witnesses and the Pentecostal people.

And when we talk about the Shoah, we probably think about the 6 millions of sacrificed Jewish people on the altar of the antisemitism.

Often though we forget that each one of  those six millions lives was an individual, with a unique story, a life ahead, maybe difficult or maybe rich of hopes

Such as the one of Franceska Mann, or Franciszka Mannówna, young woman aspiring great dancer, and she had what it would take to become one.

Above: picture from the Public Domain

Franceska, from Warsaw, has studied Dance in the prestigious School of Irena Prusicka, and she was considered as the rising star of dance, both classic and modern. At the dance competition of Bruxelles in 1939 she had reached the 4th position amongst 125 participants.

At the end of 1940, for the Jewish- Polish people from Warsaw the nightmare started to happen: thousands of citizens were locked in the ghetto, the waiting room to the concentration camps. From that moment on, Franceska’s story became blurred, because the girl is one of the many Jewish girls doomed to either starvation, diseases, or to be deported, in one of those tremendous camps.

There is no documentation about her, only a few survivors narrated part of her life.

According to some sources, Franceska used to exhibit in a nightclub of the capital, the “Melody Palace”; according to others she was a Nazi collaborator, but her finale does not seem to suggest such a track.

At the beginning of the 1943, Franceska Mann was transferred to the Hotel Polski along with other hundreds of Polish people. The hotel represented for many their last option to salvation, but in reality it was a trap for those who had managed to hide in the Arian district. Someone had spread the rumor that the Nazis were incline to free a number of Jews and giving them a passport to South America in exchange for the release of German prisoners from the allied forces. It’s unsure whether initially there was something truth in this “Hotel Polski question”, but what is certain is that the Germany party used this method to encourage the hidden Jews to come out.

On the 23rd October 1943, about 1700 people were taken to Auschwitz, believing to be moved to Switzerland, where the exchange with the prisoners would have occurred. Amongst them there was also Franceska Mann.

To the prisoners, destined to an imminent death, they told they had to be disinfected before the border.

The women were separated by the men, in a dressing room next to the gas chambers, according to the most plausible version, where they were ordered to get undressed.

It was in that moment that Franceska understood the deceit and decided to react. According to some witnesses, the woman managed to enchant a guard with some sort of strip tease dance and then she hit him in his forehead with a shoe, and then stole his gun. She shotted  twice to the tummy of Josef Schillinger, and one third shot hit the leg of Wilhelm Emmerich. At that point the other women jumped on two other Nazi soldiers, before being all killed with a machine gun.

Władysław Siwek’s illustration, Auschwitz survivor

The episode of the uprising of the women doomed to the gas chamber in the October 1943 is confirmed in a German document and mentioned by the Auschwitz Commander Rudolf Hoss, who did not provide with any detail. The fact the main character of the event was a dancer emerged later, and it’s obviously impossible being completely assured that this was her real identity. But what is really important in this story is the incredible act of rebellion of a woman who was brave enough to fight for her life even when not on equal terms.

A survivor of Auschwitz wrote down:

“..the accident, spread from mouth to mouth and changed in different versions became a legend. Without any doubt, this heroic action of a woman facing her certain death, gave a moral support to each prisoner. We realised all of a sudden that if we had tried to raise a hand against them, that hand could have killed. They were mortal”.

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