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The story of Helena Citrónová

These days, the world remembers the victims of the Holocaust. The Tatra Gallery in Poprad commemorates them with art inspired by love.

The 20th century hell known as the Holocaust claimed the lives of approximately six million Jews during World War II, and on a wider scale, the number of victims approaches the number of seventeen million human lives. The goal of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls on January 27, is to remember the suffering of the victims as well as the survivors and survivors every year.

Helena Citrónová, a 20-year-old Slovak Jew, found herself right in the middle of the Nazi rampage of concentration and extermination camps with her parents and siblings. After Helena was transported to the largest of them – Auschwitz in the Polish city of Oswiecim in March 1942 – the incredible love story between her and SS warden Franz Wunsch began to be written.

At first, Helena was forced to help with demolition work in the camp, but she realized that she would not be able to last like this for long. She managed to get clothes from another woman who worked in “Kanad” (note the barracks where prisoners’ belongings were collected and sorted). When she came to the barracks dressed like this the next morning, the warden noticed her, and as a punishment she was to be placed in the penal commando the next day, which meant almost certain death. Coincidentally, Austrian SS member Franz Wunsch celebrated his birthday on that very day. The warden chose Helena Citrónová to sing for him.

He saved Helena and her sister

Crying, she sang a German song she remembered from school. When she finished, he asked her to sing one more time. This is how feelings were born in the otherwise hard, violent heart of a young man from Austria. He arranged for her to stay in “Canada” and kept a protective hand over her the whole time.

At the time when Helena learned that her sister Rózinka and her two small children were brought to Auschwitz and headed for the gas chambers, she was the only living relative of her family. Helena ran to the crematorium during the curfew, where Wunsch caught up with her and insisted that she tell him her sister’s name. He ran into the crematorium and declared that she used to work for him and that he needed her. However, the children ended up in the gas chamber.

With the help of an SS officer, both sisters managed to survive the liberation of the concentration and extermination camp by the Red Army on January 27, 1945.

After the war, they met only once

Helena Citrónová’s initially dismissive, hateful attitude towards Franz Wunsch finally turned into affection in Auschwitz. However, after the war, he and his sister started a new life in Israel, and although Wunsch tried to find her, she did not respond to his efforts. They met only once, in 1972, when, at the insistence of his wife, she came to testify in court in Vienna. Under the influence of her testimony, Wunsch was eventually acquitted of all charges.

The story of forbidden love has inspired many to art

The troubled destinies of two Jewish women under the protective hand of an SS man became the subject for the creation of various works of art abroad and in Slovakia.

The Tatra Gallery in Poprad, as part of the international ART & HOLOCAUST project, has recently opened an exhibition of photographic panels by the Slovak artist and art photographer Ivan Kelly Köhler, titled Residence of Death – Jude’s Death, for visitors. The author photographed directly in the concentration camp. He inserted his suggestive photos in hints into graphic images, where he incorporated the aforementioned story of forbidden love.

An opera with the same name Helena Citrónová was also created about Helena’s relationship. Its author is the Thai composer Somtow Sucharitkul, who worked on its preparation for five years. It premiered three years ago in Bangkok. Her story was given a written form in 2010 by the book publication Love in Canada by the Croatian author Hana Raduličová. Israeli director Maya Sarfaty won the student Oscar for the best foreign documentary for the 2020 documentary film Láska tó not.

Photo description: Helena Citrónová and Franz Wunsch
Photo source: Pinterest