Many horrors of Nazi concentration camps became evident to the world after victims were liberated at the end of WWII. Photos of Holocaust victims and conditions in the camps captured the brutality and suffering of the likes of Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, and others. Auschwitz, however, was also the location of a woman named Franceska Mann.
Born in Poland on Feb. 4, 1917, to a Jewish family, Mann excelled in her dance studies in Warsaw. She performed under the name Lola Horowitz at the Melody Palace nightclub in Warsaw during the early years of WWII. In the end, the ballerina led an uprising against her Nazi captors — and took one life herself. Mann ceased to live shortly thereafter.
Mann Spent A Brief Amount Of Time At Hotel Polski
In 1943, Mann found herself relegated to the Warsaw Ghetto but managed to get a foreign passport. This gave her access to the Hotel Polski in Warsaw where Germans had agreed to let Jews with foreign passports from South American countries reside before leaving the country. The Gestapo transferred the Jews at Hotel Polski to different concentration camps and, after South American countries refused to recognize the passports, began killing them en masse.
Historians debate whether or not Hotel Polski was a trick used to draw Jews out of hiding. Regardless, thousands of Jews did make their way to Hotel Polski only to be sent to their deaths.
Mann Was Arrested In 1943 And Sent To Bergen-Belsen
As part of the Hotel Polski Affair, as it's come to be known, police took Mann into custody in July 1943. She was arrested with about 600 other Jewish victims. The police sent some victims to Vittel, France, while others, including Mann, were sent to Bergen-Belsen. Bergen-Belsen held several concentration camps, detaining POWs, homosexuals, Roma, and other "undesirables." Anne Frank also perished at Bergen-Belson.
Mann Put On A Provocative Show To Distract The Guards At The Gas Chambers
Mann arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau in October 1943. She and the other arriving Jewish people detained were immediately sent to the gas chambers. The SS guards ordered Mann to undress, and she reportedly did so in the form of a striptease to distract them. The guards were taken by her performance, leaving them vulnerable.
The distracted guards gave Mann and the rest of the women in the gas chambers an opening to strike.
Mann Threw Her Shoe At Her Captors And Grabbed One Of Their Guns
By other accounts, when Nazis ordered Mann to strip, "she threw her shoe in [Josef] Schillinger’s face, seized his revolver and shot him in the stomach." Mann shot SS Sergeant Major Schillinger twice, and she fired a third shot at an SS sergeant named Wilhelm Emmerich. Emmerich sustained wounding, and Schillinger did not make it to the hospital before his life ended.
In another telling of this account, Mann lunged for SS Oberscharführer Walter Quakernack, hitting him in the face with her shoe and grabbing his gun. She then fired twice, hitting Schillinger, and then once more, hitting Emmerich in the leg. Mann's retaliation would force Emmerich to walk with a limp for the rest of his life.
Mann's actions led the rest of the women in the crematorium to act.
Reinforcements Were Called, And The Revolt Was Quickly Put Down
The chaos in the crematorium escalated but didn't last long. Guards from around the camp responded to the uprising, bringing machine guns and grenades to the scene. While it is debated whether the majority of women were gassed or shot with machine guns, the lives of many Jewish people ceased to exist.
Even Though the Revolt Was Unsuccessful, Mann's Actions Inspired Many
The concentration camps put down the revolt as quickly as it began. Despite that, word of the incident spread through the camp and, according to Auschwitz survivor Wieslaw Kielar, "this heroic deed by a weak woman in the face of certain death, gave moral support to every prisoner. We realized all at once that if we dared raise a hand against them, that hand might kill; they were mortal, too."