Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Franceska Mann (1917-1943)

Franceska Mann (b. Franciszka Mann, a.k.a. Rosenberg-Manheimer, Man, Mannówna) was born in Poland on 4 February 4 1917. Before WWII she was a young dancer in Warsaw who studied dance in the dance school of Irena Prusicka. Her friends at that time included Wiera Gran and Stefania Grodzieńska. In 1939 she placed fourth among 125 ballet dancers during the international dance competition in Brussels. She was considered one of the most beautiful and promising dancers of her generation in Poland, both in classical and modern repertoire. At the beginning of WWII she performed in Warsaw at the Melody Palace nightclub and was a prisoner of Warsaw Ghetto.

In several publications her name is mentioned as a German collaborator and is also associated with the Hotel Polski affair. She is mentioned in Filip Mueller's eyewitness account Eyewitness Auschwitz, Three years in the Gas Chambers, in Tadeusz Borowski's book This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, by Jerzey Tabau, an escaped Auschwitz prisoner, in The Polish Major's Report which was filed for the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg {Document L-022) and in a book written by Eberhard Kolb that is sold at the Bergen-Belsen Museum.

At the same time she is mentioned in the context of heroic behavior in the Auschwitz concentration camp, based on an incident that occurred in October 1943.

On October 23, 1943 a transport of around 1,700 Polish Jews arrived on passenger trains at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp brom Bergen-Belsen. They had been told they were being taken to the Bergau transfer camp near Dresden, from which they would continue on to Switzerland to be exchanged for German POWs. One of the passengers was Franceska Mann, who had probably obtained her foreign passport from the Hotel Polski on the Aryan side*.

Muller was one of 18 prisoners brought to the crematorium to help with this transport. The new arrivals were assembled in the yard outside Kreme II and were told by Franz Hossler, acting as a representative of the Foreign Ministry, that this was their last stop before their departure for Switzerland. They were taken into a changing room next to the gas chamber and ordered to undress for disinfecting. Half of the prisoners who had already undressed were hurriedly herded into the gas chamber. The others became suspicious and were hesitant to undress.

Different accounts give different details of what happened next, but it appears SS guards Quackernack and Schillinger, were suddenly attracted by a strikingly handsome woman with blue-black hair who was taking off one of her shoes. According to Muller's story, this woman began to undress as though doing a strip tease. She then grabbed her shoe and slammed its high heel violently against Quackernack's forehead. As he covered his face with both hands, the woman grabbed his pistol and shot both guards. As a panic broke out and the SS men started leaving the changing room, another SS guard (Emmerlick) was also shot.

The lights went out in the changing room and the door was bolted from the outside. In the darkness, one of the prisoners in the changing room spoke to Muller: "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."

The doors to the undressing room were flung open and the Sonderkommando prisoners, including Müller, were ordered out. Outside the door to the changing room, two machine guns had been set up. At this point, Commandant Rudolf Höss showed up, just in time to see the prisoners shot in “a terrible blood-bath,” including the beautiful woman. While all this was going on, the SS men had dropped Zyklon-B into the gas chamber and gassed the 500 people already inside.

Müller ends his story with these words: “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.”

Following is the story told by Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss in the deposition which he gave to the British:

“Sometimes it happened that prisoners knew what was going to be done. Especially the transports from Belsen knew, as they originated from the East, when the trains reached Upper Silesia, that they were most likely (being) taken to the place of extermination.

When transports from Belsen arrived, safety measures were strengthened and the transports were split up into smaller groups which we sent to different crematoriums to prevent riots. SS men formed a strong cordon and forced resisting prisoners into the gas chamber. That happened very rarely as prisoners were set at ease by the measures we undertook.

I remember one incident especially well.

One transport from Belsen arrived, approximately two-thirds, mostly men were in the gas chamber, the remaining third was in the dressing room. When three or four armed SS Unterfuhrers entered the dressing room to hasten the undressing, mutiny broke out.

The light cables were torn down, the SS men were overpowered, one of them stabbed and all of them were robbed of their weapons. As this room was in complete darkness wild shooting started between the guard near the exit door and the prisoners inside.

When I arrived I ordered the doors to be shut and I had the process of gassing the first party finished and then went into the room together with the guard carrying small searchlights, pushing the prisoners into a corner from where they were taken out singly into another room of the crematorium and shot, by my order, with small calibre weapons.”

Note that Höss mentioned the dressing room, the gas chamber and “another room of the crematorium” which must have been the morgue.

The story as told by Jerzy Tabau has a few minor points that are different. According to him, the new arrivals were told that they had to be disinfected before crossing the border into Switzerland. They were taken into an undressing room next to one of the gas chambers and ordered to disrobe. The beautiful Franceska caught the attention of SS Sergeant Major Josef Schillinger, who stared at her and ordered her to undress completely. Suddenly Franceska threw her shoe into Schillinger’s face and, as he opened his gun holster, Franceska grabbed his pistol and fired two shots, wounding him in the stomach. Then she fired a third shot, wounding another guard named Emmerich, which crippled him for life. Schillinger died on the way to the hospital.

The story, as written by Tadeusz Borowski is based on hearsay, and it disagrees with the other stories almost entirely.

*Those parts of the city outside the walls of the Jewish Quarter were called Aryan. For example in Warsaw, the city was divided into Jewish, Polish and German quarters. Those living outside the ghetto had to have identification papers proving they were not Jewish (none of their grandparents was a member of the Jewish community), such as a baptism certificate. Such documents were sometimes called "Christian or Aryan papers". Catholic clergy in Poland forged on a mass scale baptism certificates, which were given out to Jews by the dominant Polish resistance movement Armia Krajowa (AK). Any Pole found giving any help to a Jew was subject to the death penalty.

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