TAKE A DEEP BREATH
Film Polski
Producer/Director/Writer: Mira Hamermesh
 
 

TAKE A DEEP BREATH was based on a story by Ryszard Palczynski, and the novella was based on a real event that took place in Auschwitz-Birkenau, basically a love story between a Kapo and a Jewish inmate from Czechoslovakia. The originality of the story lies in the complex character of the Kapo, who was both a villain in one part of the concentration camp, and a love-stricken hero in another. The Kapo Franz had earned a reputation for his vicious aggressiveness and was nicknamed 'Franz the Killer'. People feared even his shadow.

Selected to be part of a team to supervise the arrival of a new consignment of prisoners from the Theresinstaat, the 'model' Czech concentration camp, they were instructed to be polite and treat them humanely until the time of their forthcoming liquidation. The deception had a purpose: the Auschwitz authorities needed them to send postcards to those left behind and reassure them that indeed the families are staying together and they have a prospect of being sent to work. Their own camp was isolated from the rest of Auschwitz, and they had no idea that the chimneys were not factories, but were burning people. Franz became the protector of a mother and two teenage daughters. His politeness and consideration went beyond the bounds of duty. He fell in love with Vera, the youngest of the daughters, and tried every means available to him to save her. She refused to accept his help unless her mother and sister could also be saved. In their last meeting before their liquidation, he teaches the girl how to die: 'Take a deep breath, death comes quicker this way '

In my script, that's where the story ends.

But in Ryszard Palczynski's account, he describes what happened to Franz after he was betrayed: determined to die rather than carry out his duty, when he was forced to witness their dispatch to the gas chambers, he threw himself on the electrified barbed wire. He was pulled off, and half alive, was forced to watch how Maminka and her daughters were chased into the gas chambers. He was tortured and broken in body and spirit. At the end of the war he was tried by the Poles and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of many inmates. He was still in prison when we were filming TAKE A DEEP BREATH in Auschwitz. I failed to obtain permission to visit him in prison. In my naivete, I imagined that seeing him in person would be of help when casting the character of Franz.

 
 
1964
60 Mins
35mm