Danc­ing with the Ene­my: My Fam­i­ly’s Holo­caust Secret

May 13, 2013

This is the sto­ry of Rosie, a Dutch dance instruc­tor who charmed her way through Auschwitz by teach­ing lessons to the SS. Her epic life becomes a win­dow into the author’s own past, and the key to dis­cov­er­ing his Jew­ish roots. Raised Roman Catholic, Paul Glaser was shocked to learn of his father’s Jew­ish her­itage. Grap­pling with his new­found iden­ti­ty, Paul set out to dis­cov­er what hap­pened to his fam­i­ly and his estranged aunt Rosie dur­ing World War II. An eman­ci­pat­ed Dutch woman who defied con­ven­tion, Rosie Glaser toured West­ern Europe teach­ing ball­room danc­ing to high acclaim. When the Nazis seized pow­er, Rosie, a non-prac­tic­ing Jew was betrayed by both her ex-hus­band and her lover and sent to a series of con­cen­tra­tion camps. She sur­vived, in part by teach­ing dance and eti­quette lessons to her cap­tors. Rosie’s spir­it and incred­i­ble resource­ful­ness kept her alive amid tragedy. Of the 1,200 peo­ple who arrived with her at Auschwitz, eight sur­vived. Danc­ing with the Ene­my recalls an extra­or­di­nary life marked by love, betray­al, and fierce determination.

The book con­tains authen­tic songs and let­ters Rosie wrote in the con­cen­tra­tion camps, as well as pho­tographs that were buried underground.

Discussion Questions

JBC Book Clubs Questions

  • In the book, it says that Rosie nev­er lost her joie de vivre, which is reflect­ed in the unusu­al mat­ter-of-fact­ness and opti­mism of Rosie’s nar­ra­tive. Paul notes that her let­ters from the camps have no trace of self-pity and that she con­stant­ly tried to take con­trol of her life and to enjoy what she could (p 161). How did this affect your read­ing of her account?

  • Rosie won­ders if her attempts to com­fort peo­ple going into the gas cham­bers were acts of betray­al or kind­ness. What is your interpretation?

  • What do you think of Rosie’s danc­ing with the ene­my” (both lit­er­al­ly and figuratively)?

  • After the war, Rosie won­ders about good” peo­ple and bad”– the bad” Ger­mans (Jorg, Kurt, Mag­da, the doc­tor) who were kind to her vs. the good” Dutch who betrayed her, arrest­ed her, made repa­ra­tions dif­fi­cult after the war. She writes, There was no black and white. There were only peo­ple. Some were kind; oth­ers were not. The vast major­i­ty were hon­est, naive, obe­di­ent, and oppor­tunis­tic.” (p. 239). What do you think of her attitude?

  • Paul is struck by the amount of secu­ri­ty at his cous­in’s syn­a­gogue (p. 187), and dis­turbed by his increas­ing under­stand­ing of the behav­ior of the Dutch author­i­ties and cit­i­zens dur­ing the war. He also faces con­cern from his sib­lings about reveal­ing the fam­i­ly’s secret her­itage. Does this impact your opin­ion of Paul’s father’s deci­sion to keep his Jew­ish­ness a secret?

  • How does Rosie’s out­look change from before and after the war?

  • Did you find Rosie to be relat­able? Which of her traits did you find most admirable? Her defi­ance, her opti­mism, her love of fun, her abil­i­ty to sur­vive, her straightforwardness?

  • What do you think of Paul’s deci­sion to write this sto­ry, despite peo­ple in his fam­i­ly wish­ing to remain silent?

JBC Book Clubs ques­tions © Jew­ish Book Coun­cil, Inc., 2014