How Communist East Germany Held Thousands of Women as Political Prisoners | Op-Docs

How Communist East Germany Held Thousands of Women as Political Prisoners | Op-Docs

This week’s Op-Doc is the haunting animated short, “Broken: The Women’s Prison at Hoheneck.” Directors Alexander Lahl and Volker Schlecht were inspired to make the film while writing a graphic novel, in which one of the characters was an East German swimmer who tried to escape the German Democratic Republic by swimming across the Baltic Sea to Denmark. She never arrived, as she was caught by the secret service (the “Stasi”) and sent to prison.

This story was representative for many East German women, who were simply trying to flee a repressive regime for the relative freedom of the West and often sent to Hoheneck, the notorious women’s prison. A scriptwriter for this film, Max Mönch, had an aunt who was a political prisoner, and she told the filmmakers more about the harrowing experience of women there.

As the directors write, “The general themes of repression in East Germany were not new for us. But as we did our research, we were surprised and enraged to learn that the thousands of women imprisoned at Hoheneck were forced into what seemed akin to slave labor, producing goods that were sold to the West for significant profit. For us, the relationship between East and West Germany suddenly became more complicated than we had previously understood.”

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Op-Docs is a forum for short, opinionated documentaries by independent filmmakers. Learn more about Op-Docs and how to submit to the series. Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (@NYTopinion).