|Directed by:||Ulf Von Mechow||Rating:||TV-14|
|Release Date:||1994||Running Time:||60 mins|
|Language:||German (English subtitles)||Genre:||Documentary|
|More Info:||NYTimes Movies||Category:||History and Remembrance|
A real-life love story with a bizarre twist proves that love can blossom anywhere and between anyone. The Jewess and the Captain uncovers the Holocaust romance between Ilse Stein, a beautiful, eighteen-year-old Jewish girl, and Willi Schultz, the Nazi captain in charge of the Minsk ghetto.
“His love for Ilse changed him completely,” Ilse’s friend from the ghetto says of Captain Schultz. “He became a different person.”
Ilse’s been the subject of two romance novels and has become a minor celebrity in Russia where she lived after the war, but if you didn’t know her big secret, she’d strike you as a typical, well-situated grandmother, happily married and in good standing with her neighbors. You’d never know that in her youth she was the unlikely heroine of one of history’s strangest love stories. The Jewess and the Captain shares interviews with Ilse just before her death, reveals shocking archival photographs of her and Schultz, and raids the KGB’s secret documents to piece together the facts of her romance that defied all logic.
Ilse and her family were taken from their home in Germany in 1941 and deported to a Nazi ghetto in Minsk. The same month that the Steins arrived, Schultz was sent to the ghetto to supervise its work operations, watching over prisoners assigned jobs there. Not long after his arrival, Schultz lost almost all of his workers to a Nazi massacre that killed over 5,000 of the ghetto’s Jews in one night. When he went to the ghetto the next day to select new workers, Ilse caught his eye—she was chosen and made the leader of the work group.
What happened next is hard to reconcile. Though blood and death were constant at the ghetto, Ilse’s and Schultz’s unlikely love blossomed amidst the gore. As Ilse remembers it, “Blood was running in the streets, it was terrible…If not today, we’ll die tomorrow. It was impossible to escape the horror there.” But Schultz’s personal photographs from the time, taken inside his office, show Ilse not as a terror-stricken young woman, but a smiling, lanky beauty, happily reclining with a book or diligently working at a typewriter with the grace and ease of a happy-go-lucky teenager-in-love.
If it was love that elevated Ilse out of the horror around her, offering her feelings of ecstasy in the midst of death and extreme cruelty, than it was love that transformed Schultz, too. When another pogrom broke out in the ghetto, killing a large number of Jews on the night of July 20, 1942, the Nazi captain was moved to save not just Ilse but as many of her fellow Jews as he could. That night, he locked all of his workers in the cellar of the administration building. “He took a great risk keeping us in the cellar overnight,” one woman recalls.
But Schultz’s greatest act of heroism was yet to come. As Jewish deaths at the hands of the Nazis continued to escalate, the previously-loyal German captain began to plot to save his lover and more than two dozen other Jews. Partisan resistance fighters, known to the people in the ghetto as “brothers of the forest,” had organized themselves and worked to save the lives of Jews by aiding their escape into the forest surrounding the ghetto, risking their own lives in the process. With their help, Schultz deserted the German army and helped plan a grand escape that saved the lives of twenty-six Jews — including his lover, of course.
Ultimately, Ilse’s story reminds us that love is baffling — and powerful. It can motivate a Nazi soldier to call a group of Jews and Soviet resistance fighters “comrades,” and it can drive a Jewish girl to consummate a relationship with someone who helped orchestrate the death of millions, including her own father. And it can save lives.