How I learned to believe - The way to the documentary
By Kuno Kruse
Upon learning of Mr. Rubinstein’s story, I felt moved to share it, as it is indeed a metamorphic life shaped by two of the most fateful and historical events of the last century: World War II and the Holocaust.
Let me begin in the 30th, when Dolores & Imperio, the young Flamenco partners Maria and Sylvin Rubinstein, from the Warsaw Varietetheater "Adria", dive into the bubbling Berlin. With their appearance in the big varieté – theater „Scala" the attractive twins from the Polish stedtl Brody find themselves enmeshed in a wild group of artists in the hip Berlin Hautevolee. M. Czura, S. Rubinstein, K. Kruse
And allow me to go directly into the middle of the war, 1941-42. A major in the Wehrmacht, who as a member of a theatre group founds, with his comrades, an underground resistance, which hides Jewish children with Polish nuns in a small city in Poland. The major invites the jewish dancer to be his translater, smuggles Rubinstein to the Polish partisans to become his connection man, and together with the partisans, frees Russian prisoners of war. The major then smuggles the dancer to Berlin disguised as a forced-labourer, after Rubinstein, disguised as a female singer, has thrown hand grenades into local SS establishments. The dancer seeks revenge in bombed-out Berlin, camps out in the major’s apartment and, with pistol in pocket, hunts-down Gestapo men. He climbs nightly on to the roof to clear away the burning bombs and dances the flemenco between the pauses of falling bombs, while all of Berlin burns.
Paratroopers, senders and assassins; I could hardly believe what I was hearing, as Mr. Rubinstein told me of these things. That was some years ago, when I investigated his story for ‘DER SPIEGEL’ and for the bound edition under the title “Dolores & Imperio".
At that time, for all intents and purposes, I had wanted to write a story of the old stars and legends of St. Pauli, the red light district of Hamburg. And I had asked my good friend Fritz Hansen, who was a medicine in that neighborhood, to give me an approach. Fritz had said: “Go with me to Rubinstein.”
So I sat in his kitchen as Rubinstein spoke with great sadness und at the same time with a great love and appreciation for life. He testified to the lustre of Berlin’s Variété and the suffering of the Warsaw ghetto. I simply couldn’t believe that so much could have happen in a lifetime.
My good friend Peter Hermann, a producer from Munich, acceded to finance the film. His colleague Bettina Scheuren became the executive producer.
Together with the old man the director of photography Marian Czura, my friend Fritz and the film-team organized by Yola Schabenbeck-Ebers and I took a trip to the Galician Stedtl, where Sylvin grew up with his sister Maria, and where today there are no longer any Jewish inhabitants.
We followed the dancing couple’s tour to Berlin, Lemberg and Warsaw. There we stood before a church, in front of which, Sylvin had stood after fleeing the ghetto in 1940, as a German officer approached him and asked, “Are you not the dancer from the Scala Variété in Berlin?” The officer gave him the address of a pharmacy in Krakau, where one could obtain false documents. For the first time in their lives, the twins Sylvin and Maria Rubinstein parted. She went east to gather their mother and Sylvin’s wife Sala and children. He went south for the documents. They never saw each other again.
Sylvin Rubinstein traveled with me to the small city of Krosno in southern Polen. We stood in front of the door of the partisan leader. A woman opened the door, saw Rubinstein and said, “We have waited sixty years for you to come.” She was the partisans daughter. Before her father had died, he told her not to sell the house so that Rubinstein would find them again. She described her fear as her father shot four SS officers from the window; they had tracked Rubinstein in front of the house by radio signal.
We met the master craftsman, with whom Rubinstein once had tea and every other time haggled for grenades. There was the young boy, who was no longer young, and with whom Rubinstein had hid food along the side of the rode at night, and where in the mornings, starving, stone-carrying Jewish colonies passed. We spoke with nuns, who told of the hidden children. We visited a Polish village, where incidentally among other stories, the old told their grand children still about the artist, who hid Jews in the attic and who was ashamed to bath fully naked in the presence of the cows. And the people continued to ask about the German major.
In Berlin we were able to obtain amateur films from one of the Major’s comrades, which showed the troops, the Polish farmer’s market, the nuns with the orphans, the Jewish of the small town being marched away to work, and Rubinstein in 1942, disguised in women’s clothes, walking across the market place.
Finally, I comprehended the incomprehensible.
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