She was a prima ballerina, one of the great talents of pre-war Europe. Of course, that didn’t matter in the least because she was also Jewish. Franceska Mann was 22 when the Nazis marched into her native Warsaw. Like all Jews, she was herded into a ghetto, but managed to escape before the ghetto was liquidated in 1943. She and many others came out of hiding in late October that year to gather at the Hotel Polski, where it was said that safe travel documents were being sold. It was nothing more than a ruse, cleverly devised by the Nazis, to draw people out of hiding. Franceska was one of 1,700 people captured in this way and sent first to Bergen Belsen and then to Auschwitz. Like countless thousands before them, Franceska and those with her were forced to undress, supposedly in order to take a shower. This is where the story gets very interesting… as recorded in the Nazi camp record, when her group entered the showers, Franceska grabbed a gun from an SS officer and shot him dead on the spot! Of course, she and all with her were killed immediately, but word of her courageous act of resistance spread like wildfire. In fact, her story became the stuff of myth and legend. Over the years tales evolved of how she had lulled the SS officer with her beauty, and of how she had put out the eye of another officer with the heel of her shoe. None of these details, while they could be true, were included in the record of the officer’s death and so remain unknowns. What we do know for certain, however, is that once upon a time in the Third Reich, one young ballerina did not go quietly.
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