DANCING FOR SURVIVAL
Den Bosch/Camp Vught
Roosje Glaser, the daughter of an affluent family, was raised in Kleve, Germany, where her father was a factory manager. The growing anti-Semitism towards the end of the 1920s was a huge blow to the family and the father lost his job. Seeing no future in Germany, the family relocated to the Netherlands.
From a very young age, Roosje Glasers was passionate about dancing, not to mention extremely talented, and she and her first partner ran a successful dance school in ’s-Hertogenbosch. Over time, her partner became steadily more sympathetic to the national socialist ideology and, inevitably, the couple separated. At that time, a professional group was being established within the Chamber of Culture for community dance teachers, but Jewish dance teachers and tutors were not permitted to join.
Following her separation from her partner, Roosje started her own dance school and enjoyed incredible success, even internationally. If the Chamber of Culture would not allow Roosje to have her own dance school, she’d continue giving dance lessons in the attic.
She continued giving lessons in the attic until one terrible day in 1942, when a police officer arrived at the door to arrest Roosje. She had been betrayed in a letter written by one of the members of the professional group. ‘An extremely bold Jew by the name of Roosje Glaser, living at 23 Koninginnelaan in ’s-Hertogenbosch, openly declared at the disbanding meeting in Utrecht, in the presence of 147 dance teachers, that she had nothing to do with the new clique and would continue as before.’ The author of the letter was Roosje’s former partner. After six weeks, Roosje was unexpectedly released.
She fled ’s-Hertogenbosch, assumed a new identity and hid in Naarden, but even there she was betrayed by a lover and was interned in Camp Westerbork. From there she was transferred to Camp Vught and ultimately to Auschwitz-Birkenau. While the conditions in the Dutch camps were, relatively speaking at least, good, in Birkenau Roosje was forced to undergo cruel medical experimentation and was put to work in the gas chambers as a punishment.
Roosje took every opportunity to boost her chances of survival and even started up a relationship with a German officer. Of this Roosje later commented, ‘After the medical experiments in block 10 and the work in the gas chambers, I thought it wonderful that a man would say nice words to me and put his arm around me. We made love. I started to feel like a human being again.’
Dancing in Birkenau
In the final year of the war as the Soviets advanced, the chances of survival in the extermination camps steadily declined. Roosje approached her beloved with a plan and persuaded him to organise an activity. To help cheer up the demoralised SS officers, Roosje gave them dancing lessons and sang German songs. No one ever applauded her performances, but she was given bread, which she shared with two friends in her barracks.
Roosje was one of very few to survive the Birkenau camp and after a gruelling journey, she arrived in Sweden on a transport organised by the Red Cross. Barely a few weeks after her escape from Germany, Roosje was dancing again and appeared in a cabaret performance.
Roosje remained in Sweden for the rest of her life and died at an old age. In spite of her traumatic wartime experiences, Roosje never lost her lust for life or her passion for dancing and music. She signed all of her personal letters with her official name, Rosita, with a smiley face inside the letter R.
Left: Roosje dancing with her first partner
Right: Roosje in 1941
(Image: Roosje Glaser Foundation, undated)