Ballerina Franceska Manheimer-Rosenberg, better known as Franceska Mann, was born in 1917 into a Jewish family in Poland. She exhibited a talent for dance from early on and studied it as she grew up. By her early twenties, she had become one of the most accomplished dancers in Poland and was a rising star in Europe’s dance scene. Then the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 derailed her promising career. She ended up in the Warsaw Ghetto and survived its liquidation by the Nazis in 1943.
Soon thereafter, however, she and thousands of other Jews who had managed to hide in Warsaw fell for a Nazi scheme designed to capture Jewish survivors. A ruse got them to buy neutral country passports on the black market, on the assumption that it would legally transform them into foreign citizens eligible to leave Nazi-occupied Europe. Franceska was among 2500 Jews who boarded trains that were supposed to take them to neutral Switzerland. Instead, they were taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camp.
Once she got to Auschwitz, the doomed Franceska Mann pulled off a feat of incredible – and inventive – defiance that earned her a place in history. On October 23rd, 1943, 1700 Jews boarded passenger trains headed to what they believed was a transfer camp near Dresden. They were told that they would get off the trains there, then go through bureaucratic formalities and health checks, preparatory to getting sent to Switzerland in exchange for German POWs. Instead, the trains stopped at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.
Mann was one of the passengers who got off the trains. She and the other women were told that the Swiss authorities required that immigrants be disinfected before they could cross the border into Switzerland. Instead of a disinfection station, they were taken to an undressing room next to the gas chambers and told to undress. It was in that room, as other women disrobed, that Mann suspected what was in store, and decided to become a one-woman resistance movement.
The recently arrived women who were first to undress in the Auschwitz showers were hurried into the gas chamber. However, Franceska Mann hesitated to disrobe. That was when a group of irritated SS camp guards entered the room, and ordered her and the other women who had not yet undressed to hurry up. Mann refused, and in that instance, became a one-woman resistance cell. Until then, she had not been a member of any resistance group. However, in a split second, a few feet from a gas chamber, she decided to stand up and defy her oppressors.
In the most popular version of Franceska Mann’s heroic feat – although it is a version that has never been verified – she reportedly performed a striptease for the SS guards. As they ogled the beauty before them, they let their guard down. That was when Mann struck. Whether she had or had not performed a striptease, what is known is that she took off a high heel shoe, and used its heel to stab an SS guard named Walter Quakernack in the face.
6. The Ballerina Who Led a World War II Death Camp Revolt
As SS guard Walter Quakernack clutched at his face, Franceska Mann seized his pistol, and opened fire on the other guards. She shot two of them, Josef Shillinger, and Wilhelm Emmerich. Shillinger died of his wounds a few hours later, while Emmerich was left with a permanent limp. As the stunned SS men tried to process what had just happened, a dam of mounting tensions in the undressing room broke. Mann’s feat of defiance triggered the remaining women into attacking the SS guards with whatever lay at hand, and with their bare hands and teeth if they could not get a hold of anything else.
One SS man was scalped, while another had his nose torn off before the guards fled the room. As the women barricaded themselves, SS reinforcements arrived to put down the uprising. Using grenades and submachine guns, the Germans eventually killed everybody in the undressing room, including Mann. Some accounts have it that some survived, to be taken out and executed. What is certain is that SS guard Josef Shillinger was killed, Wilhelm Emmerich was shot and lived, while Walter Quakernack and other SS men were wounded. After the war, Quakernack was tried for war crimes and executed.
5. Japan’s Surrender Left Many Japanese Soldiers Confused
When Japan threw in the towel in 1945, millions of Japanese military personnel were spread across East Asia and the Pacific. Most overcame the shock of defeat and duly obeyed the orders to surrender, broadcast by their emperor and relayed through their superiors. However, a minority did not. Their motives varied. Some had been cut off from communications with their chain of command, and so never received notice that the war was over and that they should surrender to Allied military personnel.
Others received the orders to surrender but did not trust their veracity because they had been strongly indoctrinated with their military’s bushido-based ethos. The duty to fight to the death and avoid the ignominy and dishonor of surrender had been drilled into them so often by their leaders, that it was inconceivable that those same leaders had actually gone ahead and accepted the ignominy and dishonor of surrender. That being so, it followed that the orders instructing them to surrender could not have possibly come from their government, but were an enemy trick or ruse of war.
4. The Men Who Kept Up the Fight After World War II Had Ended
Some Japanese military personnel were true believers in their country’s claims that the war was fought to free fellow Asians from European colonialism. So they stayed behind when their comrades marched off to internment camps, and joined nationalist anticolonial movements such as the Viet Minh. Others suffered what would be diagnosed today as a post-traumatic stress disorder, snapped, and acted irrationally due to mental instability. And some were simply jerks, who could not swallow their pride and admit that all the wartime suffering and sacrifice had been for nothing, and accept the fact that they had been beaten. Whatever their motives, thousands of Japanese failed to surrender after the war had officially ended.
The majority of holdouts did not hold out for long. Within a few months, most were convinced that the war had ended. So they stacked their arms and turned themselves into the nearest Allied forces, or if unable to face the humiliation of surrender, committed suicide. Others were cut off from supplies of food and medicine, starved to death or succumbed to illness. Others were tracked down by Allied or native forces and killed. However, a tiny minority held out for far longer, continued the war and eluded capture or death for years – in some cases, for decades. As seen below, the first remarkable holdout feat took place in Saipan.
3. A Japanese Captain’s Incredible Feat Popularized the Trope of Japanese Holdouts
The holdout of Captain Sakae Oba was relatively brief compared to others, but it was the first that captured widespread media and public attention, and his feat thus introduced the trope of Japanese holdouts to popular culture. Born in 1914, Oba joined the Imperial Japanese Army in 1934. After years of service in Manchukuo and China, he ended up in Saipan, three months before the US Marines invaded in June 1944. Despite fierce Japanese resistance, the Marines gradually beat back the island’s defenders.
At the end of their tether, Japanese commanders decided to go out in a final blaze of glory and ordered a massive banzai charge – the largest such charge of the entire war. Captain Oba was among the few Japanese survivors. He rounded up and took command of 46 other Japanese soldiers, along with 160 civilians, then struck off into the island’s jungles. After he hid the civilians in concealed caves and remote villages, Oba led his men in a guerrilla campaign.
Captain Sakae Oba and his men caused the Americans on Saipan no end of trouble. They raided outposts and supply dumps, ambushed patrols, and took potshots at sentries. The US command sent out numerous patrols to track down and finish off the holdouts but to no avail. Plans were drawn for a massive dragnet in which American military personnel would line up across the entire island, separated from each other by only two meters, then sweep Saipan from end to end.
In a masterful feat of evasiveness, the holdouts avoided detection, and the dragnet turned into a debacle that led to the reassignment of the chagrined officer in charge of the operation. Oba’s elusiveness led the Marines in Saipan to nickname him “The Fox”. Captain Oba and his men continued the fight after the war had ended. They dismissed as “fake news” and enemy propaganda the news of Japan’s surrender that were blared via loudspeakers and contained in leaflets airdropped over the jungle.
1. The End of a Remarkable World War II Holdout Feat
All in all, Captain Sakae Oba and his men held out in the jungles of Saipan for sixteen months after the island had fallen, and for three months after World War II had ended with Japan’s surrender. Eventually, US authorities brought in a Japanese general who had commanded a brigade in Saipan and sent him in to find and reason with Oba. Tramping through the jungle while whistling Japanese military tunes, the general drew out some of the holdouts, who took him to their commander.
After Captain Oba was presented with official documents from the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters that ordered him to lay down his arms, his holdout ended. On December 1st, 1945, Oba marched his charges out of their jungle hideouts, and in a dignified ceremony, surrendered his sword and his command, and brought to an end a remarkable feat of elusiveness. Upon repatriation to Japan, Sakae Oba led a productive life, worked in the private sector, then turned to politics and got elected to his city’s council. He died in 1992, aged 78.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading