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