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Florence Waren, Of Florence Et Frederic
From The New York Times:
August 5, 2012
Florence Waren, Jewish Dancer Who Resisted Nazis, Dies at 95
Even in the depths of war in occupied France, Florence Waren and Frederic Apcar — or “Florence et Frederic,” as they were billed — dazzled Paris, he in tails, she in jeweled gowns with flowers in her hair, the two of them gliding and swirling across the stage as one of the most famous ballroom-dance teams in Europe.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Florence Waren with Frederic Apcar, her dance partner.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Mr. Apcar and Ms. Waren with the singer Édith Piaf, center.
In old black-and-white photographs, Ms. Waren, then in her early 20s, is often airborne, seemingly weightless in Mr. Apcar’s arms. At times they shared the stage with Édith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier. And on many nights Nazi officers were in the audience.
But what the members of the Wehrmacht did not know was that Ms. Waren was, as she put it, “hiding in the spotlight.”
Ms. Waren was a Jew in disguise, performing in a Nazi-held city where Jews lived under constant threat. She was a lawbreaker, hiding other Jews in her apartment, risking her own deportation to a concentration camp. And she was a smuggler, helping to supply guns to the French Resistance.
“I think she was very scared,” her son, Mark Waren, said in a telephone interview. “But I don’t think it was something she thought much about. It was simply what one did.”
Ms. Waren died on July 12 at her home in Manhattan, her son said. She was 95. She had eluded capture during the war and had come to New York not long afterward, to dance at the Copacabana with Mr. Apcar. She went on to carve out a career on stage and in television and to lead the dance and theater department at City College, even though she had never finished high school in her native South Africa.
Ms. Waren was a dancer at the Bal Tabarin Music Hall in Paris and had not yet met Mr. Apcar when the Germans occupied France in 1940. Jews were ordered to register with the police, but an owner of the music hall urged her not to. She took his advice, and her religion went undetected. But because, as a South African, she was a British citizen, the Nazis considered her an enemy alien, and in late 1940 she was among several thousand people, mostly Britons, who were arrested and interned for months in a louse-infested prison in Besançon.
After her release, she resumed dancing at the Bal Tabarin, which had become a favorite destination of German officers, and teamed up with Mr. Apcar. Briefly, they were lovers. They moved in glamorous circles, with Ms. Piaf, Mr. Chevalier and another immensely popular singer, Charles Trenet.
Ms. Waren had friends in the Resistance and began to help them, hiding and transporting guns, hiding Jews in her apartment or helping them find their way from one safe house to another. After performing in Germany in a camp for French prisoners of war, she carried home a suitcase full of their letters to relatives, an act for which she could have been arrested.
In a documentary film by her son, “Dancing Lessons,” Ms. Waren, still graceful and elegant at 86, described a time during the war when she noticed a French policeman following her. He caught up with her on a bridge over the Seine. He told her not to be afraid but also not to speak or even turn her head to look at him.
“You have some people in your apartment,” he said, and it was going to be searched. Her landlady had told the police that Ms. Waren was hiding two Jewish sisters there.
“You must get them out,” the policeman said. “Tonight.”
That night, Ms. Waren escorted the sisters through the darkened streets to a convent. Across the street, she said, Nazis were raiding an orphanage, throwing Jewish children out of high windows.
Near the end of the occupation in 1944, Mr. Apcar was told that Ms. Waren was going to be arrested, so he rented a house in the suburbs to hide her and several other Jewish performers. One morning, American soldiers drove up in a tank and asked directions to Paris. Ms. Waren and Mr. Apcar set out for Paris, too, to watch the liberation.
After the war, the French government declared Ms. Waren a “privileged resident.”
She was born Sadie Rigal in Johannesburg on March 28, 1917, one of seven children. Her father was a traveling salesman for a department store. Her mother, who had been a teacher in New York, had a breakdown after the death of her youngest son during an influenza epidemic in 1919 and was committed to a mental hospital in South Africa. Mr. Rigal raised the family alone.
A childhood event shaped Ms. Waren’s life: seeing the Ballets Russes, one of the world’s greatest ballet companies. She dreamed of becoming a dancer and began taking lessons. She became good enough to win competitions, and in 1938, at 21, she left Johannesburg for Europe, hoping for a career in ballet. She studied in England and Paris, with renowned — and stern — teachers from Russia. When one struck her in the calf with a cane, she snatched the cane and broke it, then had to buy the teacher a new one before being allowed back in class.
She was soon hired by the Bal Tabarin and began dancing in revues there, elaborate shows with dozens of dancers in fancy costumes (or none at all). She changed her first name to Florence. In 1939 she was offered her dream job — a place in the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, a descendant of the company that had inspired her in the first place. But World War II broke out before she could join the troupe.
In 1948, she and Mr. Apcar were performing in New York at the Copacabana when she met Stanley Waren, an actor, director and teacher. On their first date, they went to a delicatessen and got into such a furious argument that they were thrown out, Mr. Waren said. They were married in 1949, and Ms. Waren decided to leave the dance act. Mr. Apcar was said to have been devastated, but Ms. Waren agreed to train a replacement. In New York, she began a new career, appearing in plays and on television, on the Ed Sullivan and Kate Smith shows. Mr. Apcar died in 2008 in Las Vegas, after a long career producing shows at the Dunes hotel and casino.
Ms. Waren also worked with her husband — she as choreographer, he as director — on shows in Africa, Taiwan and China. From about 1973 to 1983, she was a professor of theater and dance at City College, leading the department for part of that time. She was also a dance panelist on the New York State Council on the Arts.
Besides her son and her husband, a granddaughter survives her.
“She led a rather adventurous life,” Stanley Waren said. “Wherever she went, she somehow became part of the scene, and people helped her and she helped them. She didn’t want anything from anybody except to work. She was really one of those natural-born performers who loved what she was doing.”