Israeli director Maya Sarfaty delivers us Love It Was Not, a documentary about a very complex relationship between a Slovakian Jewish woman, Helena Citron, and an SS officer, Franz Wunsch. Normally, there is absolutely no need to explain the complexities of such a relationship. That’s except for the fact that this woman became an Israeli citizen. Her reputation within the country was at stake. And that’s because she decided to defend the officer in a case which involved both Israeli police and Austrian courts. The film uses the conventional methods of telling that story in a documentary form. There’s the archive video and interviews, but the latter uses the Rashomon effect at its best and at its most introspective.
Both Citron and Wunsch have passed more than a decade ago. But most of the interview footage seems newer. These interviews tell the versions of the story among the people. These are people of Jewish descent who they both lived and worked with in the Auschwitz death camps. All these interviews provide a perspective deeper than outrage. One or two of them recognize that she did make things safer for the women in her group. She couldn’t even reveal the names of the other inmates bullying her lest those women face death. A few others also saw the danger she and he both were in for entering a relationship. Regardless of Wunsch’s intentions, both were in danger of breaking the Nazi anti-race mixing laws.
Love It Was Not also brings back the dead, as many films often do, and it has both interviews of Citron and Wunsch when they were alive. It’s interesting to see both. I’m assuming viewers’ assumptions about relationships like theirs with complex and uneven power dynamics. But it’s strange to see both being relatively the same age. He also did this thing where he took a picture of her and collaged it in other pictures. The film respectfully appropriates to remind its viewers of the gravity of her situation. Nonetheless, their close age gap also affects the way we see them during their interviews as they’re older. Both have their versions of their relationship as well as different ways of remembering Mengele. For her, Mengele was the monster who killed her nieces and nephews. For him, Mengele is someone who who let their illegal relationship slide.
This film is apparently an expansion on Sarfaty’s previous project. That project is The Most Beautiful Woman in the World. The film began with its subjects examining a picture of Citron where she’s smiling. I would have disregarded this as a normal picture. But that’s until everyone pointed out why an Auschwitz inmate is posing and smiling for a picture. Her smiles contrasts Wunsch’s looks. In some shots he looks menacing and at others the film makes him seem like the merciful person, reflecting his good intentions. Nonetheless, this examines the conditions and perceptions that society assumes on women. Women who use anything they have to survive. It also taps into more universal conditions like the expectations of loyalty between a country and a man. A man who, despite being a minor historical footnote, had his bad sides and his good sides.
Love It Was Not comes out to streaming services tomorrow.