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Thursday, March 03, 2005

Germany embraces killer transvestite

ButchDykeBoy.com
By Allan Hall
Age Correspondent
Berlin
February 25, 2005

A 90-year-old transvestite flamenco dancer is performing his way across theatre stages in Germany to promote a film about his life as a Jewish resistance fighter who killed Nazis in occupied Poland - and even in the heart of Berlin - during World War II.

The seemingly incredible story of Sylvin Rubinstein, whose hands were as adept at lobbing grenades as they were at clicking castanets, is the subject of an extraordinary documentary film, which is drawing a cult following at art cinemas in Germany.

Audiences erupt into cheers as Rubinstein, in full make-up, wig and ruffled flamenco gown, dances with ageless grace onto the stage to take his bows.

Audiences are captivated as he talks of his war-time exploits, which included dressing up in a slinky cocktail dress to gain entry to a Gestapo dinner party in occupied Poland where his "surprise act" consisted of lifting his skirt - to whip out two grenades, which he then hurled at his stunned onlookers.

Another time he picked off a Gestapo officer in the centre of Berlin in broad daylight. "He was a particularly nasty Nazi who took positive delight in finding Jews who were hidden in people's homes," Rubinstein recalls, speaking in a distinctive mish-mash of German-Yiddish-Polish.

The film of his life, Er Tanzte Das Leben (Dancing His Life), by Marian Czura and Kuno Kruse, takes Rubinstein on a journey to his origins. Born in 1917 in Russia, his aristocrat father was executed by the Bolsheviks while his Polish mother fled across the border to Poland with Sylvin and his twin sister Maria. Penniless in the hamlet of Brodi, Sylvin and Maria learned early on they could charm pennies from passers-by by dancing in the town marketplace. By their teens, the brother-sister team were dancing professionally. Cashing in on a Latin craze, they did a flamenco act billed as Imperio y Dolores. A few years later, Imperio and Dolores were headliners at music halls in all European capitals, London, New York and even Melbourne. They were performing at Warsaw's Adria theatre when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Being Jewish, they were consigned to the Warsaw Ghetto, where Rubinstein quickly had runs-in with Nazi guards. Jailed and beaten, he nonetheless managed a daring escape, wresting a machine-gun from a guard and mowing down a dozen Gestapo officers. Once outside, however, he was no better off since he was still in Nazi-occupied Warsaw.

"One day, a big, tall German army officer spotted me and kept staring at me," Rubinstein remembers. "He followed me and then walked up to me and I thought: 'Well, this is it'." It turned out that the officer, Major Kurt Werner, was a fan of Imperio y Dolores and remembered Rubinstein from an appearance before the war.

It was a chance meeting that ultimately would save both men's lives. Werner arranged fake ID papers for Rubinstein and his sister and urged them to head for Switzerland. But his sister insisted on trying to fetch their mother, still back in Brodi. "I saw her board the train heading east and I knew as we waved to each other that that was the last time I'd ever see her," Rubinstein says wistfully. His sister and mother perished in the extermination camp of Treblinka, where only 40 out of a million people survived.

Rubinstein remained in Warsaw and Major Werner took him under his wing and initiated him into the Polish resistance. It was through Werner that Rubinstein became an accomplished assassin and sabotage artist, using the cover name Silwan Turski. After the war, Rubinstein returned to dancing. But Imperio y Dolores became just Dolores.

In Allied-occupied Germany, it was Rubinstein's time to save Major Werner's life, testifying on his behalf before a US denazification board to win his freedom.
Rubinstein, as Dolores, went on to become a major music hall entertainer in the 1950s.

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