TAKE A DEEP BREATH (1964) Film Polski
Writer/ Director/ Producer: Mira Hamermesh
TAKE A DEEP BREAK 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 (guard) 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 protagonist in another. The Kapo Franz had earned a reputation for his vicious aggressiveness and was nicknamed ‘Franz the Killer.” People feared eve 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 the new prisoners 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 their families were 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 attached to incinerators burning gassed prisoners. Franz became the protector of a mother and two teenage daughters. His politeness and consideration want 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….”
Mira Hamermesh added: “In my script, that’s where the story ends. But in Ryszard Plczynski’s account, he describes what happened to Franz after he was betrayed: determined to die rather than carry out his duty as 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 thousands of inmates. He was still in prison when we were filming TAKE A DEEP BREATH in Auschwitz.”