Historical Social Research

Scientific research for the documentary "Love it was not"

Implementation: Mag. Dr. Brigitte Halbmayr
Funded by: Langbein & Partner Media GmbH & Co KG
Concluded in: February 2018

The documentary "Love it was not" by the Israeli director Maya Sarfaty is an Israeli-Austrian coproduction (Nir Sa´ar and Kurt Langbein). The film centres on the relationship between an SS man and a Jewish female inmate of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The SS man is the Austrian Franz Wunsch, who was born in 1922 in Drasenhofen and was a guard and work detail commander in "Canada", the warehouse in which all belongings the prisoners had brought with them were stored. There, he fell in love with the Slovakian Jew Helena Citrónová. Wunsch was known as a brutal beater, as moody and erratic, but also as someone who could be open to the pleas of inmates. He rescued Helena´s sister after the selection at the ramp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, but her children went into the gas chambers. Both sisters survived and later emigrated to Israel. After 1945, Helena refused any contact with Franz who tried to find her through the Red Cross International Tracing Service. However, she did follow an invitation in 1972 to give testimony in a trial against Franz Wunsch at the Regional Court for Criminal Matters in Vienna. Before that, a plea from Wunsch´s wife reached her, asking her to give testimony in her husband´s favour. But Helena also confirmed at court that Wunsch had done duty at the ramp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The main part of the research in Austria was the review and analysis of the court files – ten volumes – kept at the Vienna Municipal and Regional Archives. In this second Auschwitz trial of 1972, another Austrian, Otto Graf, SS Unterscharführer and part of the guard detail in Auschwitz-Birkenau like Wunsch, was accused. Both were accused of participating in the murder of a large number of people in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau as well as of having murdered individual Jewish and Polish prisoners in person. Both were acquitted by the jury court. The main questions in reviewing the court material focused on the conduct of the case by the court, on Franz Wunsch´s defense strategy, and on the characterisations of the accused by the witnesses who were questioned. Another part of the research consisted in searching for former participants or observers of the court trial and asking them to give an interview for the documentary. In some cases, we managed to trace them, but their recollections of the trial were vague. At least the former public prosecutor and a jury member could be interviewed as Austrian participants of the trial.

Another focus was researching the media coverage. It is striking that there is not one radio or tv report about the trial. Austrian newspapers, too, showed little interest. Longer articles can only be found in foreign newspapers (from the US, Canada, and the Netherlands). For the media research, we mainly consulted Hermann Langbein´s estate at the Austrian State Archives, the Simon Wiesenthal Archives, and the sociological media documentation archive (SOWIDOK) of the Vienna Chamber of Labour.

The documentary also addresses the question how the past is present within the families. Therefore, Maya Sarfaty interviewed the children of the two Israeli sisters (both of them deceased), as well as the daughter of the late Franz Wunsch, and brought them together in Israel.