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Sylvin Rubinstein (1914 Moscow, April 30, 2011, Hamburg) was a Russian dancer and cross-dresser who was a member of the resistance to Nazism during World War II.
Born in 1914 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 passersby 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.
By the time they were 20, Imperio and Dolores were headliners at music halls in all European capitals, London, New York and as far away as Melbourne.
Nazi Occupation of Poland
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 run-ins with Nazi guards.
Jailed and beaten, Rubinstein nonetheless managed to escape, wrestling a machine gun from a guard and mowing down a dozen Gestapo officers.
Entry Into the Resistance
"One day a big, tall German army officer spotted me and kept staring at me...He followed me and then walked up to me and I thought, well, this is it."
It turned out the officer, Wehrmacht Major Kurt Werner, was a fan of Imperio y Dolores and remembered Rubinstein from an appearance in Berlin before the war.
Werner arranged for 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...I could have insisted she stay with me. But I didn’t. That is one of two things I’ve always regretted."
He never saw either his sister or his mother again.
Remaining in Warsaw, Rubinstein returned to Major Werner, who took the dancer 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.
Rubenstein used his ability to pass as a woman in these missions. For example he recalled that a Gestapo officer "was a particularly nasty Nazi who took positive delight in finding Jews who were hidden in people’s homes...he would have the Jews dragged off and also the German families who had sheltered them. Very nasty, indeed. Everybody in Berlin feared and hated him, Jews and Goyim alike...well, one fine day it was his birthday and a very elegant-looking lady (if I do say so myself) showed up at his office with a bunch of red roses, asking to see him alone."
After the war, Rubinstein returned to dancing.
"Becoming Dolores was my way of coping with my twin sister’s death...only a twin can understand how horrific that was. It was like being torn in half. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her."
In Allied-occupied Germany Rubinstein testified on Major Werner's behalf before a US board to win his freedom.
Rubinstein, in his female guise as Dolores, went on to become a major music hall entertainer in the 1950s. But advancing age and changing tastes took their toll.
Reduced to performing in seedy clubs in Hamburg’s Reeperbahn red- light district, he retired around 1970.
"I was dancing in a place where the headline act was a couple having sex on stage. That was when I said, ‘Dolores, it’s time to hang up the castanets’."
As of January 2005, Rubenstein was alive and living in an apartment just off the Reeperbahn in the harbor district of Hamburg.
A documentary, Er Tanzte Das Leben (Dancing His Life), was made of his life story.
According to an article in Gazeta Wyborcza in May 2006, he returned for several engagements of dancing in Hamburg's gay clubs.
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