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The Dancer of Auschwitz

Franceska Mann (Photo: Narodowe Muzeum Cyfrowe/Zaklad fotograficzny)

She was talented. She was beautiful. But she was also Jewish.

Born in 1917, Franceska Mann was a dancer who lived in Warsaw, Poland. In 1939, before World War II broke out, Franceska took fourth place in the international dance competition held in Brussels. The people of Poland considered her one of the most beautiful and promising dancers - both in classical and modern styles - in their country. But her Jewish faith would change that.

Franceska was performing at Warsaw's Melody Palace nightclub when the Nazis invaded Poland. Because she was Jewish, the girl became a prisoner of the infamous Warsaw Ghetto.

On October 23, 1942, a train carrying 1,700 Polish Jews arrived at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, Franceska among them. These Jews had been told they were being taken to Switzerland in order to be exchanged for German POWs - an obvious lie. Stopping at Auschwitz, the Jews were unloaded and told they were to shower and be disinfected before the arrived in Switzerland.

Supervising the women was a Nazi S.S. officer named Josep Schillinger. The Nazi noticed the beautiful dancer and ordered her to disrobe for him. Likely knowing that the showers were a murderous lie, and also deducing the wanton German's intentions, Franceska made her move.

The dancer threw her shoe into the Nazi's face, grabbed his gun, and shot Schillinger twice in the stomach, also shooting another Nazi in the process. Schillinger died on his way to the hospital.

The other S.S. guards shot and killed Franceska, but not before chaos ensued, with one Nazi losing a nose and another his scalp. Eventually the camp commandant Rudolf Höss brought a phalanx of Nazi guards who killed the uprising women with machine guns and grenades. But not before this group of women - led by the heroic dancer, Franceska Mann - stood up to their evil captors, choosing how they would die.

While the story of Franceska Mann does not end happily, may it be lasting as one that highlights the importance of standing up to evil, prejudice, and tyranny.

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