Franceska Mann - Act of Resistance in Birkenau

franceska Mann

Franceska Manheimer - Rosenberg aka Franceska Mann

Franceska Manheimer- Rosenberg, also known as Franceska Mann was born on February 4, 1917, in Warsaw. She was a young dancer residing in Warsaw prior to the Second World War. She studied dance in the Dance School of Irena Prusicka. During 1939. she was placed fourth during an International Dance competition in Brussels, Belgium, among 125 other young ballet dancers.

During the German occupation she was a performer at the Melody Palace nightclub in Warsaw. A transport carrying Franceska Mann arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau on October 23, 1943, from the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp near Celle, in Germany. The transport consisted of 1,800 Polish Jews who had received passports for traveling to Latin American countries. Most of them paid considerable sums of money for these visas and had been held in the Hotel Polski in Warsaw, with the blessing of the local Gestapo, before being shipped to Bergen Belsen.

They were known as the so-called 'Exchange Jews.' One of Adolf Eichmann's experts Dr. Seidl, from the RSHA, examined their documentation, and the Jews were informed that they were going to the Bergau Camp near Dresden and their luggage would follow them. On arrival at the ramp in Birkenau, the men and women were separated. The women were taken to Crematorium II, and the men were taken to Crematorium III. The SS carried out an examination of the travel documents, the Polish Jews were told they must be disinfected.

Filip Muller, a member of the Jewish Sonderkommando now takes up the account of Franceska's brave act of resistance inside Crematorium II in Birkenau:

After a few minutes hesitation the SS men began to usher the ones who had undressed into the gas chamber, possibly in the belief that once they had them out of the way they might be able to deal with the recalcitrant ones more efficiently. Presently more than half the people were behind the great door of the gas chamber. It seemed that the others still in the changing room were trying to gain time. Time for what though? The crematorium was surrounded by armed SS men. None of us prisoners was willing to join them in what would be a senseless attempt to get away. Nor was there any chance of telling the people that they were about to be gassed. This might have persuaded them that it was more honourable to die fighting than meekly inside the gas chamber. However, every phase, from their arrival on the ramp to the moment when they were hustled into the gas chamber was deliberately carried out in a tearing hurry leaving the victims no time to think or take decisions.

Surreptitiously SS- Unterfuhrers Quackernack, Hustek, Voss, Boger, Schillinger, Gorges, Emmerich, Kurschuss, Ackermann and others left the changing rooms one by one, returning after a short time armed with sticks. No doubt Lagerfuhrer Schwarzhuber had given them the green light to deal with these people in the usual way. Instead of their earlier marked courtesy and lying talk, there were now terse requests of, 'Get undressed! Hurry up! Get ready for your baths! Come on, come on!'

The people did not respond, but simply kept standing about, doing nothing. It was not surprising therefore that the SS men grew nervous. In order to demonstrate that they meant business they shifted their holsters round to the front and opened the flaps. Then they came closer to the crowd and assuming a menacing attitude, began to shout. When this had no effect either, they started to strike blindly at the crowd with their sticks. Now the ones standing in front, in an attempt to dodge the blows, tried to back away while those exposed in turn tried to get out of the way, so that there was utter chaos.

The SS increased their furious, merciless beatings. By now many people were bleeding profusely from blows they had received. And at long last the rest realized that resistance was useless. There was no way out. They began to undress, whereupon the SS men stopped beating them. Why we were still standing by the wall holding our boards, no one knew.It was obvious that the SS felt themselves once more to be masters of the situation. Quackernack and Schillinger were strutting back and forth in front of the humiliated crowd with a self-important swagger.

Then up steps Franceska Mann, as Filip Muller continues his account:

Suddenly they stopped in their tracks, attracted by a strikingly handsome woman with blue-black hair who was taking off her right shoe. The woman, as soon as she noticed that the two men were ogling her, launched into what appeared to be a titillating and seductive strip-tease act. She lifted her skirt to allow a glimpse of thigh and suspender. Slowly she undid her stocking and peeled it off her foot. From out of the corner of her eye she carefully observed what was going on round her. The two SS men were fascinated by her performance and paid no attention to anything else. They were standing there with arms akimbo, their whips dangling from their wrists, and their eyes firmly glued on the woman.

She had taken off her blouse and was standing in front of her lecherous audience in her brassiere. Then she steadied herself against a concrete pillar with her left arm and bent down, slightly lifting her foot, in order to take off her shoe. What happened next took place with lightning speed: quick as a flash she grabbed her shoe and slammed its high heel violently against Quackernack's forehead. He winced with pain and covered his face with both hands. At this moment the young woman flung herself at him and made a quick grab for his pistol.

There was a shot. Schillinger cried out and fell to the ground. Seconds later there was a second shot aimed at Quackernack which narrowly missed him. A panic broke out in the changing room. The young woman had disappeared in the crowd. Any moment she might appear somewhere else and aim her pistol at another of her executioners. The SS men realized this danger. One by one they crept outside. The wounded Schillinger was still lying unattended on the floor.

After a while a few SS men came in and dragged him hastily to the door. Then a third shot was fired, one of the SS men pulling Schillinger let go of him and started to limp to the door as fast as he could. Then the light went out. Simultaneously the door was bolted from the outside. We too were now caught inside the pitch-dark room. The people who had lost their bearings in the dark were running about in confusion. I too, was afraid that this might be the end for all of us. Just now, i thought ruefully, when our plans for rebellion were going ahead, and when we had a not inconsiderable hoard of arms and ammunition, why did it have to be just now.

i began to grope my way along the wall towards the exit. When I finally reached it I found nearly all my companions, but also many of the others who instinctively had made for the door. They were weeping and bemoaning their fate, some were praying, others bidding each other farewell. There was considerable speculation as to the identity of the woman who had fired the shots.

A man who was standing near us had noticed that we did not belong to their group. He spoke to us in the dark and wanted to know from where we came. 'From the death factory,' one of my companions replied tersely. The man was very agitated and demanded loudly, 'I don't understand what this is all about. After all, we have valid entry visas for Paraguay, and what's more, we paid the Gestapo a great deal of money to get our exit permits. I handed over three diamonds worth at least 100,000 zloty: it was all i had left of my inheritance. And that young dancer, the one who fired the shots a little wile ago, she had to pay a lot more. '

Suddenly the door was flung open. I was blinded by the glare of several searchlights. Then I heard Voss shouting, 'All members of the Sonderkommando come out!' Greatly relieved we dashed outside and ran up the stairs and into the yard. Outside the door to the changing room two machine-guns had been set up, and behind them several searchlights. Steel-helmeted SS men were lying ready to operate the machine-guns. A horde of armed SS-men were milling about the yard.

I was on my way to the cremation room when a car drew up and Lagerkommandant Hoss climbed out. Then there was the rattle of machine-guns. A terrible blood bath was wrought about the people caught in the changing room. A very few who had managed to hide behind pillars or in corners were later seized and shot. In the meantime, the 'disinfecting officers' had thrown their deadly Zyklon B gas down into the gas chamber, where the credulous, placing their trust in Hossler's deceitful words, had gone less than an hour earlier.

Next morning we learnt that Schillinger had died on the way to hospital, while Unterscharfuhrer Emmerich had been wounded. The news was received with satisfaction by many camp inmates, for in section B2d of the men's camp Schillinger had been regarded as an extremely brutal and capricious sadist.

The body of the young dancer was laid out in the dissecting room of Crematorium II. SS men went there to look at her corpse, before its incineration. Perhaps the sight of her was to be a warning as well as an illustration of the dire consequences one moment's lack of vigilance might have for an SS man.

As for us, these events had taught us once again that there simply was no chance of escape once a person entered the crematorium, by then it was too late. The promises of the SS, ranging from work inside the camp to emigration to Switzerland, were nothing but barefaced deception, as they had proved to be for these wretched people who had wanted to emigrate to Paraguay. 



Filip Muller, Eyewitness Auschwitz, Ivan R Dee, Chicago, 1999

Photograph: Private Archive

Holocaust Historical Society January 30, 2022