A Jewish heroine who “hid in the spotlight” while France was occupied by the Nazis died on June 12 at the age of 95. Florence Waren, half of the famous ballroom dancing duo ‘Florence et Frederic,’ concealed her identity while Jews in France lived under constant threat.
Yet Waren was no bystander, and her courageous actions during the war will be publicly remembered far past her lifetime. The dancer, originally born under the name Sadie Rigal, hid fellow Jews in her apartment and smuggled supplies and arms to the French Resistance while Nazi officers frequented her performances. The officers unknowingly watched as the dancer onstage shared the floor with Édith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier, but was in fact one of their prime targets, a Jew.
Waren was selected to perform in Germany for French prisoners of war, but even there she was no stage doll. After the performance, she collected letters prisoners wrote to their relatives, an act which could have landed her in prison as well.
Despite her fame, Waren never enjoyed an easy life. She was in the public eye, but always "hiding," having close encounters with Nazis and sympathizers. During one incident, a French policeman followed her with a warning to sneak the hidden Jews out of her apartment, as it would be searched the following day. But Waren did not simply put the hidden Jews out on the street; she risked her life and personally escorted them to a convent.
In another instance in 1944, Apcar, who was aware of Waren's secret Jewish identity, was informed that Waren was going to be arrested, and he took it upon himself to hide her and other Jewish performers in a rented house in the suburbs.
After successfully concealing her identity during the war and being declared a “privileged resident" by the French government, Waren moved to Manhattan with her partner Frederic Apcar to dance at the Copacabana.
Waren overcame all odds and eventually made her way onto the television screen, appearing on the Ed Sullivan and Kate Smith shows. She then pursued a career as the head of the dance and theater department at City College.
Waren is survived by her husband, Stanley Waren, a son, and a granddaughter.
Danielle Chazen is a freelance reporter and technology event coordinator with a degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.