This may sound like a joke, but it was deadly serious.
Dancing mania (also known as dancing plague, choreomania, St John’s Dance and, historically, St. Vitus’s Dance) was a social phenomenon that occurred primarily in mainland Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries. It involved groups of people dancing erratically, sometimes thousands at a time. The mania affected men, women, and children who danced until they collapsed from exhaustion. One of the first major outbreaks was in Aachen, in the Holy Roman Empire, in 1374, and it quickly spread throughout Europe; one particularly notable outbreak occurred in Strasbourg in 1518, also in the Holy Roman Empire.
The Strassbourg outbreak began in July 1518, when a woman, Mrs. Troffea, began to dance fervently in a street in Strasbourg. This lasted somewhere between four and six days. Within a week, 34 others had joined, and within a month, there were around 400 dancers, predominantly female. Some of these people eventually died from heart attacks, strokes, or exhaustion. One report indicates that for a period the plague killed around fifteen people per day.
Affecting thousands of people across several centuries, dancing mania was not an isolated event, and was well documented in contemporary reports. It was nevertheless poorly understood, and remedies were based on guesswork. Generally, musicians accompanied dancers, to help ward off the mania, but this tactic sometimes backfired by encouraging more to join in. There is no consensus among modern-day scholars as to the cause of dancing mania.
The several theories proposed range from religious cults being behind the processions to people dancing to relieve themselves of stress and put the poverty of the period out of their minds. It is, however, thought to have been a mass psychogenic illness in which the occurrence of similar physical symptoms, with no known physical cause, affect a large group of people as a form of social influence.
Modern theories include food-poisoning caused by the toxic and psychoactive chemical products of ergot fungi, which grows commonly on grains in the wheat family (such as rye).
Ergotamine is the main psychoactive product of ergot fungi, it is structurally related to the recreational drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25), and is the substance from which LSD-25 was originally synthesized. The same fungus has also been implicated in other major historical anomalies, including the Salem witch trials.
With all the horrible stories we have heard about Auschwitz it does happen that every once in a while we come across a more ‘lighthearted’ tale. By chance I came across the story of Roosje Glaser.
Even before Nazi racial laws turned her into a wanted person in her native Netherlands, Roosje Glaser had limited patience for rules.
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 stars, 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.
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.
Rosie (ex-)husband Leo reports her to the Kultuurkamer. Rosie is forced to close her thriving dance school.
Leo and his brother Marinus betray Rosie to the commissioner of police and the mayor. Rosie is arrested and handed over to the SS who lock her up for six weeks
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.
Ignoring the summons, she stole another woman’s passport and moved to a different city, living under a false identity in a boarding house run by a German woman who was married to a Dutch Nazi. Then a former lover betrayed her to the authorities — this time for payment.
Initially she and her mother are send to Camp Westerbork .
Determined not to be send to Poland she befriends the leader of her barrack, she demonstrates a tap dance for him which results in getting her job as a nurse. She then gets her mother transferred to the hospital and gets her father, who had been sent to the camp previously, a job in the kitchen.
Later she works as a private secretary of Jacob Haan, an SS officer at the camp.She started a relationship with Jacob Haan, he advised her that it probably would be better to change her maiden name to her ex Husband’s last name Crielaars, which is a catholic name.
Eventually despite all her efforts she gets send to Auschwitz.
In Auschwitz she ends up in Block 10 ,a cellblock where women and men were used as experimental subjects for German doctors. The experiments in Block 10 ranged from skin testing for reaction to relatively gentle substances to giving phenol injections to the heart for immediate dissection.
Here she uses her charm and her dancing skills and she refuses to further part-take in the experiments, but rather then being killed for it, she gets send to Birkenau. Did experiments conducted on her rendered her unable to bear children.
At Birkenau she is tasked to comfort and to set at ease those who are send to the gas chambers.
As a fluent speaker of German and accomplished administrator, Glaser landed a position as an assistant to a German officer at Auschwitz.
“She had charm and she spoke to the Germans like she was one of them, like a classmate. She lacked that victim mentality,” said Paul Glaser, who interviewed his aunt for the book close to her death and has spent the past 15 years gathering additional materials about her extraordinary life story.
Using what he called “natural charm,” Roosje Glaser began giving her German bosses dance lessons after hours, sometimes together with their girlfriends or the dreaded Aufsehrinnen – female guards
This gave her some privileges like extra rations of bread which she shares with other inmates.
At the start of 1945 Roosje and other inmates are sent to another camp, due to the imminent arrival of the Soviet troops. In this camp the Swedish Red cross is handing out food parcels. Her married name, Crielaars had a Scandinavian ring to is so she decides to go with it,because of this she ends up in an exchange program between Danish prisoners and German POW’s. She then ends up in a refugee camp in Sweden
At the refugee camp in Sweden,Roosje Glaser began giving dancing lessons to other displaced persons like herself.
Disappointed by the Dutch treatment of her, she had been betrayed twice and ironically the only help she received in the Netherlands during the war was from a German woman and her Dutch Nazi husband. she decided to stay in Sweden after the war. Where stayed until 2000 the year she died.
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