The First Jewish Caravan to Auschwitz, the Nazi Officer and His Captivity: A True Story of a Taboo Love

The photo is amazing: it looks like a vacation photo, except that it was taken at a concentration camp – extermination – and that the young beauty taking a break is being held there. Helena Citronova was one of 999 women in the first official Jewish convoy to Auschwitz in March 1942. In her striped dress, she was smiling a bright smile. Chubby cheeks, a strong body, a proud posture and thick, carefully combed hair raise questions. Can one be captive, happy and healthy in Auschwitz?

It was a Nazi officer who took the bullets. He would make dozens of copies, cut off Helena’s head and stick it on postcards – in the mountains, at sea, on a trip, with the family, imagining what life would have been for them. Because in 1942, Austrian Franz Winch fell madly in love with Helena when he heard her voice, like a sailor from Odyssey Guided to his downfall song sirens.

In this stunning photograph, Helena Citronova, a captive at Auschwitz, smiles dazzlingly, taken by her lover, Nazi officer Franz Wönch. He would keep it and make dozens of copies of it until his death. | Cineville

An SS man celebrated his birthday that day and young female workers in Canada, as the extermination camp sorting depot is called, were invited to come and sing or dance to entertain the group. One of Helena’s friends, who knew her talent for singing, pushed her forward. She chose a sad German song, “Liebe war es nie” (“It wasn’t love,” a prophetic choice?). At the end of the show, a young man approached her and asked her to start over.

She was, as she was later captured, of the Shoah Foundation, established by Steven Spielberg in 1994, the first time a member of the SS addressed her with respect. “Suddenly I heard a human voice and not an animal roar. I heard ‘please’! I saw the uniform and thought, ‘Oh my God!’ They are the eyes of a human being, not the eyes of a killer.”


Franz Winch is 20 years old. Helena is still a teenager, “A real peach, it felt like you were squeezing his cheeks”Her friend Roma Ben Atar Notkovic will testify. Winch killer, Helena knows that. At first I hated him. He was just as diabolical as the rest of the SS men. But over time…” He earns her affection by protecting her, and bringing food or blankets for her and her friends. slips discreetly her little words (“Don’t worry, I’ll get you out of here.”).

A winch watches her without hiding from the others anxiously. When she contracted typhoid fever, which was synonymous with certain death at Auschwitz, he treated her, watched her sleep, and gave her her rations. “mad love”Helena agrees. She trembles: both, because of this final violation, risk death. What if someone informs them? It eventually happens. Both are being tortured but they resist: they will never confess.

Helena is jealous, sometimes humiliating, and does not trust all her comrades with misfortune. “But within two and a half years of continuing this relationship, I’ve been able to save many lives.”, will justify itself. Including his sister Rosenka (Rosa). When, in 1943, she learned of the arrival of her sister and her two children, she hurried. Dr. Joseph Mengele, the Angel of Death, stopped her when she was about to enter the gas chamber to join her sister there. Without thinking, Wunsch, who has not taken his eyes off her for a long time, rushes over, puts her on the ground and pleads her case with Mengele: she is one of his workers (“There are not many of these numbers left.”).

Scythe’s indifference allows him to shelter her. Then, in a crazy movement, he entered the Krematorium and managed to restore Ruzinka. She is already naked, like her children, waiting unknowingly to be gassed. Nine-year-old Aviva holds her baby brother firmly in her arms and watches her in terror as her mother walks away. “You’ll be fine, I promise.” She is unaware that there is no child alive at Auschwitz, and that only twins can survive – only to undergo the experiments of Josef Mengele. Rosenka will not forgive her sister for the death of her children.

Gray areas in history

Director Maya Sarfati learned about Helena’s story from one of her nieces, who happened to be working as her teacher. Fascinated by the unfathomable complexity of history, she dedicated two documentaries to him. It is in particular the contrast of characters that I have tried to highlight.

“I was someone else, and everyone knew about this story. I got smeared, it was an SS. But the thing is, he saved my life.”

Helena Citronova

Explaining it, from her point of view, Franz He was a sadistic SS officer, no doubt. But he was also romantic and affectionate, capable of pure love and compassion. Nor is Helena the classic victim one might imagine: a strong woman with a strong survival instinct willing to do everything What it takes to save herself and her sister. The gray areas between ugliness and purity are the ones that drive me to tell this story.”

Gray areas… In 1972, Helena, who was living in Israel, received a letter from Franz’s wife asking her to help her in turn by appearing to testify at his trial. The last time Helena saw a Nazi officer farewell, when he presented her and Rosa’s fur-lined boots, to enable them to survive a death march in 1944. She would agree to testify, like Rosa. Wunsch will be acquitted.

On this other planet

Helena was repeatedly questioned by the media about why she gave her testimony instead of trying to forget it. On the Israeli TV show “A Different Love”, in 2003 she found the courage to trust. “I was someone else, and everyone knew this story. I got smeared, he was an SS. But the thing is, he saved my life. I didn’t choose, it happened. It’s a story that can’t exist anywhere other than on this planet.” the other.

In 2016, the first documentary by Maya Sarfati dedicated to the story of Helena and Franz, The most beautiful womanIt won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Documentary Film, directed by a student. Relentlessly pursuing her research at the Yad Vashem (International Institute for Holocaust Remembrance) archives, in Jerusalem, and those of the Holocaust Foundation, the filmmaker then unearthed more testimonies – including those of Franz and Helena themselves – as well as tracing the family and relatives of the protagonists.

to Love was notexchanges with Franz’s daughter: “He was the love of his life”confirms this. “If we had won the war, everything would have been different.”Lamenting in front of the wife and family, reflecting on his lost love. Franz Winch’s obsessive composite images inspire the director: she then reconstructs scenes from the past using characters cut from archival visuals. The narrative process is powerful and disturbing – the almost childish innocence of these card games creates a striking contrast with the violence of historical facts.

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Sorry that no release date has been set in France, but Love was not Available online. Seventy-seven years after the end of the Holocaust (May 8, 1945), Maya Sarfati brilliantly, without falling into the agitation of absolute taboos, swirls the emotions of survivors, making their voices heard – and through them, those among the millions of disappeared.

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