Love It Was Not
Israel.Austria 2020
Written and directed by Maya Sarfaty Documentary
Hebrew. German.English
86 minutes
If it were not true, it would be unbelievable. The result of long years of research, this film is remarkable not only for its unusual central story and unique creative execution, but also for its extensive eyewitness testimonies. In March 1942, the first transport of Jewish women and girls - nearly 1,000 of them from all over Slovakia - arrived at what was then the construction site of the Auschwitz extermination camp. Among them was Helena Citron, the daughter of a cantor. After being initially assigned to dangerous work on a demolition crew, Helena is reassigned in December to a job in "Kanada," the storeroom of personal items belonging to those who were gassed. It is there that she is chosen to sing at a birthday party for 20-year-old SS officer Franz Wunsch, one of the men commanding the "Kanada" operation. He falls in love with her and her magnetic singing voice. Risking certain execution if caught, their forbidden relationship went on until her liberation by the Soviet Army in 1945. At one point, the viewer might start thinking about Wunsch in affirmative term because of his affection for Helena and lenience shown to those close to her. But even the biggest apologist will be dissuaded from sympathising with the Nazi after hearing testimonies of his sadism towards other prisoners. The pair don't meet again until 30 years later when a letter arrives from Wunsch's wife begging Helena to testify on his behalf at a war crimes trial. She is faced with an impossible decision: will she help the man who brutalised so many lives, but saved hers and some of the women closest to her? She decides to testify to "tell the truth, all the bad and all the good". Sarfaty's approach to the documentary combines traditional talking-heads interviews with creative use of models of Auschwitz, painstaking photomontages and an evocative score to create dramatic tension in a memorable film.