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October 23: The Dancer in Birkenau

October 23, 2011

Franciszka_mann1.pdfSS Sergeant Major Josef Schillinger, a guard at Auschwitz-Birkenau notorious for choking prisoners to death, was shot by a woman inmate in the undressing chamber on this date in 1943. The woman was one of 1,750 Polish Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto who held South American passports or transport documents and had been lured by the Nazis from the ghetto at the time of the uprising with the promise of transfer to South America, only to end up in Birkenau. Martin Gilbert writes: During a gas chamber strip-down, “Schillinger himself ordered one of the women to undress completely. This woman, who according to some reports was a former Warsaw dancer named Horowitz (other accounts identify her as Franceska Mann), threw her shoe in Schillinger’s face, seized his revolver and shot him in the stomach. The shooting of Schillinger served as a signal for the other women to attack the SS men at the entrance to the gas chamber. One SS man had his nose torn off, another was scalped. . . . Schillinger died on the way to the camp hospital. The other SS men fled.”

“Shortly afterwards, the camp command, Rudolf Hoess, entered the chamber, accompanied by SS men carrying machine guns and grenades. They then removed the women one by one, and shot them outside. . . . The revolt of the Jewish women at Birkenau was recorded by two prisoners who worked in the camp. One of them, Stanislaw Jankowski, remembered only one other such attempt, [by] a Soviet prisoner-of-war, who was about to be shot . . .” Martin Gilbert, The Holocaust: A History of the Jews During the Second World War