Francesca Mann met with absolute evil -- and she shot it.
On October 23, 1943, the next train with the Jews – about 1,700 people -- arrived at the death camp (Konzentrationslager) Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Unlike all other trains arriving at Auschwitz, it was a real passenger train, not a cattle train. Also, none of their arriving Jews wore the yellow Star of David on their clothes.
Arriving Jews were greeted warmly by the “representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Third Reich” Franz Hössler, who announced that this is their last stop before crossing the border with Switzerland, from where they would travel to different countries of South America. Just a few formalities remain -- disinfection, shower, and then -- long-awaited freedom. Few people guessed that they were in southern Poland, not in southern Germany, and that Hössler was actually an SS First Lieutenant (SS-Obersturmführer).
All of them, representatives of the wealthiest Jewish families of occupied Poland, dreamed of freedom. A secret Nazi program for “obtaining visas to the countries of South America” was created specifically for them. The headquarters of this program was set up by the Gestapo in the Hotel Polski in Warsaw. The cost of a fake exit visa to Paraguay, Panama, Peru, Guatemala or Bolivia was about $1,500 per person (more than $20,000 at today's rate). The program was deliberately designed for the wealthy. The plan was devilishly tricky – a minimal number of Jews were in fact allowed to travel to neutral countries for the exchange of German prisoners of war, and this ensured a continuous inflow of Jewish money into the treasury of the Third Reich.
The Hotel Polski was in the “Aryan zone” of Warsaw, outside the Warsaw Jewish ghetto. One of the couriers between the ghetto and the hotel was the 26-year-old Francesca Mann.
Francesca Mann was her stage name. She was a Jewish ballerina and dancer, one of the most famous, talented, and beautiful women in Poland. Her maiden name was Manheimer, and her husband, Marek Rosenberg, was the son of a wealthy Warsaw jersey merchant.
The privileged status of Francesca manifested itself in everything. Only she could flaunt fur coats inside a dirty ghetto. Only she was allowed to leave the ghetto for the “Aryan zone” anytime. Of course, the Gestapo kept her in the dark, so Francesca sincerely believed that she was helping wealthy Jews find freedom. She knew too much and perhaps suspected something, so the Gestapo ordered her on the very first train to South America with a layover in Auschwitz.
What happened upon arrival in Auschwitz we only know from the words of the eyewitnesses who survived. Most of them were prisoners who were forced to work at the camp. Their testimonies differ in detail, but they agree on one thing – the beautiful woman from Warsaw went down in history as a hero.
In the locker room in front of the gas chamber (camouflaged as the showers) Krema 2, the SS supervisors ordered all women to undress. Approximately half of the women followed the order, but the rest felt that something was wrong. The SS men began using gun stocks to drive the women into the gas chamber amid horrific screams and crying.
The tense situation was defused by Francesca Mann. She escaped from the screaming crowd to a group of SS guards and, to the astonishment of the men, began to perform a striptease.
This openly sexy dance by such a brilliant professional dancer had the SS guards hypnotized. Finally, Francesca undressed entirely remaining only in her high-heeled shoes. In the blink of an eye, she took off her shoes and smashed the face of a nearby Sergeant (SS-Oberscharführer) Quackernak with the sharp heelpiece.
The shocked Quackernak dropped his weapon and covered his bloody face with both hands. Francesca used this moment to pick up his pistol and shoot Sergeant Josef Shillinger, one of the most odious sadists of Auschwitz, twice in the stomach. She then aimed at Quackernak but missed, the bullet instead hitting Master Sergeant (SS-Hauptscharführer) Emmerich. Her shots served as a signal, and several hundred furious and desperate women attacked a dozen SS men.
Commandant of Auschwitz Lt. Colonel (SS-Obersturmbannführer) Rudolf Höss came running at the sound of the shots. He ordered the SS men to block all the exits from the building and shoot all the Jews who were in the locker room.
Schillinger died the same day on his way to the hospital. Emmerich remained lame for life. Quackernak was sentenced by a military tribunal in 1946 to be hanged for his participation in mass executions of civilians and Soviet prisoners of war. Hössler was hanged in the same year.
At the military tribunal after WWII, Höss was accused under his leadership, three and a half million Jews were killed. He filed a protest, because according to the statistics of the Third Reich during his command of the death camp of Auschwitz, not three and a half, but only two and a half million Jews were killed, and the rest allegedly died of various illnesses. Höss was executed by hanging in 1947 in the same death camp he had commanded – in Auschwitz.
Posted on Shalom Adventure by: Mary Matlock