Four Jewish children pose outside their home in South Africa.
Photograph | Photograph Number: 12707
Circa 1922 - 1925
- South Africa
- Photo Designation
LIFE BEFORE THE HOLOCAUST -- South Africa
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Sadie Rigal-Waren
Four Jewish children pose outside their home in South Africa.
Pictured are Sadie, Wilfred, Dorothy and Irene Rigal.
- Florence Waren (born Sadie Rigal) is the daughter of David Rigal and Gertrude Woolf Rigal. She was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, on March 28, 1917 where her father was a traveling salesman for Jaggers Department Store. Her mother, Gertrude Woolf, had been a teacher in New York, but after the death of her youngest son in the flu epidemic of 1919, she was confined to a mental institution. After that, David Rigal raised his family of six alone. The Rigal family was relatively observant but poor, and after her older siblings married and left home, Sadie and her father lived in a boarding house in downtown Johannesburg. After attending a performance of the Ballets Russes, Sadie decided she wanted to become a dancer. A cousin ran a small dance school, and she gave Sadie free lessons in exchange for helping out. She learned quickly, won competitions, and became a pupil of Audrey Gross. Still wanting to join the Ballet Russes, Sadie decided to move to Europe. In 1938, with the help of friends and family, Sadie Rigal left Johannesburg. She performed one last solo in Cape Town and departed for London. From there she went to Paris where she studied with the great Russian teachers, and at the suggestion of a friend, auditioned for the prestigious Bal Tabarin Music Hall. After a difficult audition, she was accepted, little knowing that the club would shortly become her means of survival. In 1939, the Tabarin provided her with sufficient earnings to share an apartment, eat more regularly, and pay for her lessons. That summer, with the help of Pierre Sandrini, the producing co-owner of the Tabarin, Sadie and a friend took a week off from work and auditioned for the Ballets Russes in London. Both Sadie and her friend were accepted, and they were told to return to Paris, where they would be "picked up" when the company came through at Christmas. In September, however, the war broke out, destroying Sadie's dream of a ballet career. Still determined not to return to South Africa, Sadie refused her father's offer of a ticket home.
When the Germans approached Paris, Sadie and her friend fled with the exodus. They made their way to a local village, but anti-British sentiment was running high in the countryside, in the midst of the defeat. The two girls were driven out of town with rocks. Like many foreigners, including foreign Jews, they returned to Paris, because they had nowhere else to go. Sadie began hearing rumors of German atrocities. Pierre Sandrini of the Tabarin and two other friends advised her not to register as a Jew, and she wisely heeded their warnings. In November, 1939, four thousand British citizens ("enemy aliens" resident in France), including Sadie, were rounded up and taken by train to the Caserne Vauban in Besançon, near the German border, an area the Germans had slated for eventual annexation. She was guarded by French soldiers as well as Germans, and had to shave her body to rid herself of lice. Early in 1941, Sadie was released and permitted to return to Paris, but required to "sign in" daily at her local police station. When Sadie returned, a friend, Claude Jejert, who was in the Resistance, picked her up at the train station, rented her a hotel room and bought her dinner. She later hid a revolver for him. Sadie began work again at the Tabarin, at first sleeping in the dressing room, since she did not have a pass that allowed her to be out at night. Later, she used her pass to assist others. At the Tabarin, she met Frederic Apcar, with whom she developed first a dance act and then a relationship. The dance act outlasted the relationship; as partners, "Florence et Frederic," quickly became one of the top dance teams in France.
Sadie also became active in the resistance and aided other Jews. An attractive dancer, she was often given the job of accompanying fleeing Jews without papers when they walked from one hiding place to another. She hid and transported weapons for the Resistance, and sometimes hid Jews in her own, frequently changing, apartments. Some of these Jews were friends from the world of the Music Halls, such as the composer Maurice Lebovici, whose non-Jewish wife, British dancer and producer "Bluebell" had been with Sadie at Besançon. Sadie had unsuccessfully petitioned the commandant to release "Bluebell," who had a child in the camp and was pregnant with her second child at the time. Now in Paris, Sadie walked Maurice through the guarded streets. In the summer of 1944, they wound up in the same hiding place. People like Maurice were "passsed on" through a loose network of performers and their friends, many of whom, like Sadie, also had contacts in the Resistance. One of Sadie's last offstage "performances," at a time when she herself was living in hiding, involved conducting Dr. Gilbert Doukan, a Jewish escapee from Drancy and Resistance hero, through a phalanx of police and soldiers to a waiting train. She was disguised as his stunning and very attentive French wife. Sadie next saw Doukan in a French officer's uniform during the Liberation of Paris.
Most of the passengers along an underground railway whom Sadie helped remained anonymous. While Sadie was housing two Jewish sisters, escapees from a camp, a policeman followed her from her daily "sign in." They stood side-by-side looking out over the Seine, and he warned her that her landlady had informed on her, and that the apartment would be searched. Sadie walked the girls to a convent, and witnessed a Nazi raid on an orphanage, in which Jewish children were savagely tossed from upper-story windows onto the street. The two Jewish sisters eventually escaped to the southern coast. They visited Sadie in 1948, when she was performing in New York, because they recognized her on a poster. The same anonymous policeman warned Sadie a second time, when she was hiding a gun in her apartment.
Along with Charles Trenet, Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier, "Florence et Frederic" toured four French prisoner-of-war camps in Germany. The Germans promised that 500 prisoners would be released, but Sadie never believed the Germans would fulfill their promise. She was tormented by the conditions she saw. Even so, she found a way to help. She returned to France with her suitcase filled with illegal letters from prisoners to their relatives. On the way back to Paris, the French artists stopped in Berlin, where they happily witnessed an allied bombing. In the bomb shelter, the musicians played jazz, causing a debate among the Germans in the shelter.
Sadie attributed her survival to a number of friends and admirers, including Pierre Sandrini, Frederic Apcar, Mario Lembo and a German cultural officer who warned Frederic, near the end of the Occupation, that Sadie was to be arrested. Frederic rented a secluded "safe" house in the suburbs, and hid Sadie there, along with other Jews like Gilbert Doukan, Maurice Lebovici and Piroska Sekely (another Jewish dancer "hidden" onstage at the Tabarin), as well as Lebovici's wife "Bluebell" and a number of anonymous "visitors." One morning, an American tank rolled up to the door to ask for directions to Paris. Frederic and Sadie followed the tank to Paris and witnessed the final scenes of the Liberation. In 1947, Sadie was declared a "privileged resident" of France for her activities during the war. In 1948, "Florence et Frederic" toured the United States. Sadie, now known as Florence, fell in love with a young actor, director and academic Stanley Waren. She trained a new "Florence" for the act, and remained in New York. Florence and Stanley married in 1949. After a career on Broadway and in television, she gave birth to her only child Mark Waren, at the age of 42. In 1996, for the first time, she visited her parents' graves in Johannesburg and saw the beginnings of a new South Africa. Her son directed a documentary film about her life entitled, "Dancing Lessons."
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Sadie Rigal-WarenSource Record ID: Collections: 2006.158.1
Record last modified: 2006-09-29 00:00:00
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/pa1161750