Women of Valor: Partisans and Resistance Fighters
Zofia Yamaika : 1925-1943 | Mala Zimetbaum : 1922-1944
Biographical Sketches - Franceska Mann: ?-1944
On October 23, 1943 two transports of Jews arrived at Auschwitz, one from Rome (of which 196 men and women passed the selection and were registered in the camp), and one from Bergen Belson, of approximately 1700 people, none of whom was registered. This transport included people from Warsaw, holders of passports from various American countries.
Among them was Franceska Mann, a beautiful, young music-hall dancer. In Warsaw she had performed at the famous Melody Palace nightclub. She was among others who had sought refuge in Hotel Polski, on the Aryan side of Warsaw. Rumours were prevalent that foreign documents could be procured at Hotel Polski, and that holders of these documents would be sent abroad and exchanged for German citizens in foreign countries. It is likely that Ms Mann obtained her foreign passport in this manner.
On July 3, 1943 the Germans surrounded the Hotel Polski, arrested its 600 Jewish inhabitants and took them to the Pawiak Prison. Some were shot in the prison courtyard: the others were brought to Bergen Belsen.
In Belsen the transport of "foreign Jews" was interned in the Star Camp, set aside for holders of foreign papers. In late October 1942 most of the Jews from Warsaw were told that they were being sent, temporarily, to a transfer camp called "Bergau", from where they would continue on to Switzerland to be exchanged for German POWs. They were transported in passenger trains, but their destination was Auschwitz.
Testimonies of Jewish prisoners, workers in the Sonderkommando, describe what happened to the transport after its arrival in Auschwitz on October 23, 1943. The crematorium and gas chamber were particulary well-cleaned in anticipation of this transport. The SS men assigned to processing the arrivals were courteous at first, anxious to prevent any outbursts from their well-dressed, unsuspecting victims. The Jews were told that they were to be "disinfected" before crossing the Swiss border. While some began to comply with the SS orders to undress and enter the gas chamber, others hesitated, unwilling to take off clothes which contained their precious travel documents. As they delayed, the SS assumed more menacing stances, threatening the Jews with guns and finally beating them mercilessly with sticks.
Franceska Mann, strikingly beautiful, attracted the attention of SS men Quackernack and Schillinger, who ogled her as she undressed. Suddenly she threw an article of clothing at Schillinger, hitting him in the head. As he opened his holster, Franceska Mann grabbed his pistol and shot twice. Schillinger fell, mortally wounded. As he was dragged away the lights were turned out, a third shot wounded SS man Emmerich, SS reinforcements were brought in, searchlights were turned on and machine guns were set up, and all the Jews were driven into the gas chamber.
News of Franceska Mann's daring act of resistance spread quickly through the camp. Although it electrified those who heard it, it also confirmed the conviction that resistance would only be feasible outside the crematorium/gas chamber complex.