When a Dutch Jewish woman taught SS officers how to dance
Roosje Glaser would pose for photos with Nazi soldiers in occupied Holland. The defiant spirit that helped her survive Auschwitz is captured in a new film
A lighthearted and sometimes frivolous Jewish dance instructor who loved jazz music and the company of handsome men, Glaser ignored the 1940 Nazi takeover of Holland and the murderous anti-Semitism it brought. When she couldn’t ignore it, she mocked it.
An amateur photographer whose Aryan looks allowed her greater mobility than other Jews, Glaser not only flouted Nazi laws that forced Jews to wear yellow patches, but used to pose for photographs with unsuspecting German occupation soldiers next to cafe signs that read “no Jews allowed.”
Her flamboyant defiance eventually got Glaser sent to Auschwitz. But at the death camp, that same trait helped her survive as a dance instructor to the SS until she staged a clever escape. The remarkable life story of Roosje Glaser, who died in 2000, was only recently documented in a new biography about her written and published in Britain this year by her Dutch nephew.
“On the one hand, it seems that at times she didn’t understand the severity of her situation,” said Paul Glaser, the son of Roosje Glaser’s brother and author of “Dancing with the Enemy.” “On the other hand, she survived by seizing a series of opportunities that show she knew what she was doing.”
Roosje Glaser’s first act of defiance was to remove the letter J from her passport, which authorities stamped on the documents of Jews after the Nazi takeover, Paul Glaser said at a lecture he delivered about the biography at the Limmud FSU Jewish learning conference in Moscow earlier this year.
In violation of Nazi racial laws, Roosje Glaser continued to run her successful dance school. She even made it into the cinema reel in 1941, as part of a Nazi-era item that was meant to show that Amsterdam’s cultural scene was unhampered by the occupation. But her jealous ex-husband, who had turned into an ardent Nazi, informed the Nazis of her Jewish roots.
Summoned and marked by authorities, Glaser was unable to find a venue for the graduation ball of her dance class of 1942. So she had the graduation in a barn in the countryside. Pictures of her dancing with her students are the last taken of her as a free person before she was sent to Auschwitz.