From 1950 to 1990, Communist East Germany imprisoned thousands of women for committing political crimes against the state. (Among the punishable offenses: demonstrating the desire to travel, criticism of state politics, and participating in public demonstrations.) Hoheneck, a 700-year-old castle, was the most notorious women’s prison in the GDR. Many inmates did not survive their sentences, during which they endured torture and forced labor under harsh, unrelenting conditions.
Gabriele Stoetzer and Birgit Willschuetz lived to tell the tale. The former inmates share their harrowing stories in Broken: The Women’s Prison at Hoheneck, a Sundance-winning animated short documentary from Volker Schlecht and Alexander Lahl. In the film, one of the women remembers how after just days at Hoheneck, “your entire face changed. It dissolved. It was broken.”
“The pain told me what time it was,” recalls the other woman. “We had no watches or anything.”
The filmmakers conducted more than 100 pages of interviews over the course of their research. As a result, Lahl told The Atlantic, “rather than create a traditional story with a beginning, middle and end, we decided to make something more conceptual—a film that seemed more like a painting.”