(Drasenhofen 1922 – Vienna 2009): A forbidden relationship
Head of the “Canada” personal effects store
Franz Wunsch, born in Drasenhofen on 21 March 1922 in Lower Austria, came to Auschwitz as an SS storm trooper at the age of just 20. He had joined the SS shortly after his 18th birthday and by the time he entered service had already served on the Western and Eastern Fronts. He had his first experience of the concentration camp system during a short spell of service on the Dachau concentration camp management.
Wunsch was for the most part deployed as head of the effects camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, referred to as “Canada” in camp jargon, but he also served as a commando leader of the leather factory and of the Sonderkomando. As such, he took part in many selections at the ramp and loaded the weak and those who could not walk onto the trucks that took them directly to the extermination facilities. He accompanied them to the gas chambers, lied to them about their true fate and, when necessary, forced them into the gas chamber. Later, survivors would testify to Wunsch’s particular brand of brutality during these events. In the SS he was promoted first to Rottenführer, then to Unterscharführer.
On 30 October 1942, during a musical performance by a group of prisoners, he heard the singing of Helena Citron, a young Jewish woman who had been deported to Auschwitz from Slovakia. Franz Wunsch fell in love with Helena Citron, began an affair with her and saved her and her sister's lives. Survivors reported that Wunsch acted less brutally from that time on. In another statement, however, Wunsch was accused murdering a Greek prisoner during the Sonderkommando’s uprising on 7 October 1944.
Of the many thefts from the confiscated property stored in “Canada”, only very few came to light. Franz Wunsch was once caught stealing a few small items – leather gloves, cigarettes, a hunting knife and a torch – and was sentenced by the SS court in Katowice to five weeks of strict solitary confinement. This was to be the last time he was punished. After the war he worked as a traveller in Vienna, was arrested on 25 August 1971 and tried at the second Vienna Auschwitz Trial from 25 April to 27 June 1972.
After the liberation, Franz Wunsch had tried to trace Helena Citron through the Red Cross International Tracing Service, but she – in the meantime living in Israel – had refused to make contact. In 1972, however, she testified as a witness at Wunsch’s trial and her evidence helped exonerate him. He was acquitted on 27 June 1972 and released. He died in Vienna on 23 February 2009.
Literature and sources
Ernst Klee, Auschwitz. Täter, Gehilfen, Opfer und was aus ihnen wurde. Ein Personenlexikon, Frankfurt am Main 2013, p. 445.
Christiane Rothländer: Endbericht „Österreicher und Österreicherinnen in der Konzentrationslager-SS Auschwitz-Birkenau. Eine Untersuchung zu Quantität und Sozialstruktur. Vienna. Unpublished manuscript 2018.
R. Garscha, S. Loitfellner: Die Wiener Auschwitzprozesse des Jahres 1972: Otto Graf und Franz Wunsch. In: nachkriegsjustiz.at, March 2005; http://www.nachkriegsjustiz.at/prozesse/geschworeneng/wunsch_graf.php.
Film: Liebe war es nie. Documentary. Israeli-Austrian coproduction by Nir Sa’ar and Kurt Langbein (son of the resistance fighter and concentration camp inmate Hermann Langbein). Director: Maya Sarfati, Israel/Austria 2019.