The Arbor Outlook: Auschwitz, Tragedy and the Dance of Life

“Some dance to remember... Some dance to forget...”
—from “Hotel California,” as performed by The Eagles

For an entire year after the war, she did not speak. And she hoarded food like an animal while recuperating in a Swedish hospital.

Now, at age 93, she performs the rumba, the foxtrot, the merengue and the tango.

All of us face significant life difficulties, including financial challenges and concerns. Many of us obsess over market movements, investments and our bank balance. Few of us, however, have experienced the cruelty and loss that has plagued the life of Manhattan resident Helena Weinrauch.

Corey Kilgannon of the New York Times recently chronicled her story. It began in Poland. Hitler invaded in 1939 and Helena and her loved ones, along with other Jewish families, were marked for death. Helena “passed” briefly as a gentile and danced with a Nazi officer at a social gathering. But her pose was discovered, and the officer, angry at being deceived, assigned her to concentration camps (including Auschwitz) rather than immediate execution, thinking this a punishment worse than death. Her parents and her sister and other relatives were murdered.

A march from Auschwitz in freezing conditions almost killed her. British soldiers rescued her from a pile of dead bodies when they took control of the camp at Bergen-Belsen near the war’s end. One soldier noticed that her body was warm and that she was still breathing. She weighed 60 pounds.

Later she moved to New York and married Joseph Weinrauch, a German native who had also escaped the Nazi’s reign of terror. Tragedy hounded Helena, though. Her only child, daughter Arlene, died of breast cancer in the 1990s. Her husband Joseph died in 2006. She was completely alone.

A flyer arrived in the mail a few years back, offering free dance lessons. On the designated evening, she walked to the studio from her apartment and found other dancers, mostly in their 20s and 30s. A friendly instructor encouraged her to try anyway, and showed her a few simple movements.

Soon she began hiring instructors to accompany and dance with her at venues outside the studio. She loved it. Now she dances several times a week.

“When I dance, I forget what happened to me and it makes me feel, for a few minutes or hours, that I am happy,” she said.

In the face of tragedy, Helena Weinrauch not only survives, but celebrates through dance. This story is worth repeating, as we express thanks for all the good in our lives and draw inspiration from those, like Helena, who have the ability to transcend unspeakable horrors.

Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC®, AIF®, author of the syndicated economic column “Arbor Outlook,” is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850.608.6121 – www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin.