In April 2010, Saartje (now known as Selma) was honored with the Orde Van Orange-Nassau by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands as the last Dutch-born survivor of the Sobibor Death Camp. Dancing Through Darkness is the story of the years between the horrors of 1943 and the honors of 2010.
A week after Saartje (Selma) Wijnberg arrived at the Sobibor Death Camp, the SS officers had no planned punishments or executions after the evening roll call, so the starving, exhausted prisoners were ordered to dance for the entertainment of the guards. Saartje, from Zwolle, Holland, was ordered to dance with Chaim Engel, a prisoner from Brudzew, Poland. For the rest of his life, Chaim told everyone that he fell in love with Saartje the minute she stepped into his arms. Saartje countered that it took her much longer – until the dance ended.
As recorded in Saartje’s diary – now in The Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. – their love gave them the strength to survive the unimaginable brutality of Sobibor and the largest, most amazing escape from any Nazi camp. That love created hope and the dream of surviving to share a normal life as they ran by night and hid by day to avoid Nazi troops scouring the forest for escapees. Finding refuge in a barn loft near Chelm, Poland, they struggled against cold, hunger, and disease for nine months as they awaited their fate.