Who inspired the character Franz Wolff?
The BBC programme by Lawrence Rees, reported upon the love story of Franz Wunsch and Helena Citronova. The characters of Franz and Elena in the book are inspired by these two, although it should be pointed out that no opinions expressed are actual opinions of these two characters. In the documentary, Helena admitted to falling in love with her captor and did testify in his post war trial, travelling from Israel to do so. Franz Wunsch decided not to take part in the documentary.
In the camp, he meets and falls in love with Elena. The unlikely match sets off a train of events, destabilizing both Franz's place within the camp and his previous belief in the Nazi ideology. He shows compassion by setting up an illegal infirmary known as 'The Shelf'. Through this, inmates avoid the fatal conditions of camp quarantine. He carries out several corageous acts, saving the Long Italian, Heini the Gatekeeper and giving inmates shoes prior to the Death Marches. Kanada was known as one of the few places where inmates were not badly beaten and Franz plays a major role in maintaining this. Prominent in the story is his action to save Elena's sister, already sent to the Gas Chambers. He retrieves and saves her, but leaves her children to their fate. Franz ends up in trouble with the Gestapo, having been arrested earlier for fraternization. In that case, corruption of the camp was uncovered and the race crimes were excluded. He was charged with military theft of cigarettes, despite being a non-smoker. On account of his leniency to inmates, he finds himself again under scrutiny of the Gestapo and only the camp's dissolution prevents him sharing the fate of his colleague Sturmmann Bestok, executed for helping his Jewish lover escape.
Despite his discomfort and apparent reform, Franz is a committed Nazi, unable to connect his belief with the actions of the camp. He is convinced that he has not done anything wrong by being in Auschwitz. On the one hand, he is brave, compassionate and ready to risk his life saving inmates, on the other hand he is blind to the reality of Nazism. In this way, Franz is a contradiction, typical of many people caught up in the movement. In TIA, this complicity is explored through the story of his father Josef who, despite being an anti Nazi and working with Jewish partners, finds himself pulled along with the swell of this political movement.
What is Franz's religious significance?
Franz is not an Archangel as are most of the characters of WB, rather he performs a central role in 'Whispering Birches' as a human. Like all humans he is capable of both compassion and evil. In the book 'Truth in Ash', he has the significance of being the central child character with his dominating mother Maria and ineffective father Josef. His sins are forgiven by his family just as in Roman Catholic faith, the sins of the past are wiped by confession. His moral bankruptcy and redemption is also symbolic of the questionable role played by the church during the conflict.
Franz appears shortly in the third book 'Fallen Beech'. Here we see him as Fenrir, the wolf who bites the arm of Tyr, being his friend Lukas Armbrecht. The character is symbolic of the chaos of the Pagan world being subdued by the thread of Gleipnir that was constructed in 'Whispering Birches'. The act of biting the arm is his betrayal of his movement by warning the Hungarians.