SLIFF 2019 Interview: Sonya Winterberg – Director of MADE IN AUSCHWITZ: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BLOCK 10
MADE IN AUSCHWITZ: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BLOCK 10 Screens Sunday, Nov 17 at 3:00pm at The Plaza Frontenac Cinema (1701 South Lindbergh Boulevard # 210 PLAZA) as part of this year’s St. Louis International Film Festival.Ticket information can be found HERE
“Made in Auschwitz” focuses needed attention on a little-known aspect of the Nazis’ ghastly experiments, detailing the efforts of gynecologist Carl Clauberg to find an efficient means of sterilizing women. Clauberg’s “research” in birth control and fertility are part of the medical canon to this day, and such major firms as Siemens and the pharmaceutical company Schering (later purchased by Bayer) both participated in and profited from his work. The documentary deftly deploys archival materials and interviews with experts and historians, but the primary focus is on the testimony of a half-dozen remarkable women who survived Clauberg’s experiments, including a few who, despite the inhumane, painful treatments to which they were subjected, managed to have children after the war. Viewers may think they are familiar with the horrors of Josef Mengele and his cohort of concentration-camp physicians, but Clauberg’s experiments deserve the scrutiny the film provides, especially given the contemporary use and commercial exploitation of his work.
Sonya Winterberg took the time to talk to We Are Movie Geeks about MADE IN AUSCHWITZ: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BLOCK 10
Interview conducted by Tom Stockman November 13th, 2019
Tom Stockman: I hear you’re coming to St. Louis this weekend with your film MADE IN AUSCHWITZ: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BLOCK 10.
Sonya Winterberg: Yes, I just got back from Copenhagen and I’ll be in St. Louis on Saturday.
TS: Great. The screening for your film is Sunday the 17th. I found your film fascinating. It’s basically the story of Professor Carl Clauberg. How did you become interested in the story of Professor Clauberg?
SW: A German author wrote a book about him. That was in 2011 and that was the first time I had encountered his name. Later on, I found a research paper by two people from St. Louis, Rita Marika Csapo-Sweet and Fred Sweet. They were Professors of Medicine who had written in medical journals and found it fascinating that Professor Clauberg had conducted that type of research though his name would never come up in anything that had to do with endocrinology, the research of hormones. I started looking into this and I wanted to know if there was more than I could find out about him. We didn’t know if there were people alive who had actually met him.
TS: You referred to him in the documentary as ‘The father of the birth control pill’.
SW: Yes, but it’s not as though he invented the birth control pill, but he did a lot of the hormonal research that was needed to be able to and find out about the menstrual cycle and subjects like that. Much of that came from research that professor Claubert had done in the 1920s and 1930s.
TS: Yes, your film shows his focus, studying women and their menstrual cycles. It seems that he became so obsessed with his own research and experiments that he eventually embraced evil by collaborating with the Nazi party.
SW: Absolutely, though I think there is a big difference between him and some of the other famous Nazi doctors. Many of them were sadists and just wanted to torture others. Professor Clauberg was not like that. He was obsessed with his research, obsessed with women’s reproductive organs and body parts, and the Holocaust became the way for him to continue that. He sort of had this Napoleon syndrome. He was a little guy who really wanted to be big and to be important. He thought this research with the Nazis was his way of getting there.
TS: What was it like filming at Auschwitz?
SW: Today it is a very solemn place. Part of it is open to visitors, so people can actually go there. It was eerie and it was hard. Before we went to Auschwitz, we had done the interviews with the women that had lived through this at Auschwitz and told us their stories, so to be in this actual place was something that moved us for quite some time.
TS: So Auschwitz is open for tourists?
SW: Yes, it’s like a memorial. It’s a very big place. There are other Holocaust Museums in the US, one in New York and one in DC, that are very educational, but Auschwitz is the one where it actually happened, so there is an educational part to it and also a memorial part.
TS: There’s a Holocaust Museum here in St. Louis. Have you had a chance to visit that one?
SW: I have not been to that one yet.
TS: How did you track down the women that you interviewed, the ones that had been victims of Professor Clauberg?
SW: That was probably the hardest part. We wanted to talk with survivors and relatives of survivors in different countries. We wrote letters and scanned newspapers and radio shows and the Internet for help. We used every possible means we could think of to find these women, and that’s how we came up with the last six survivors of Professor Clauberg’s Auschwitz experiments. We also talk to professors who had worked on the issue. We went into senior citizen homes talk to people who had survived the Holocaust. We filmed this all over a period of 2 to 3 years.
TS: To what countries did you have to travel to interview these women?
SW: We found two of these women in the Netherlands, two in France, and two in the United States. We wanted to talk to some people who had survived Auschwitz but they were no longer alive. We talked to some of their relatives, but those interviews are no longer in the film.
TS: Was there anyone who you wanted to talk to that refused to be interviewed for your film?
SW: No, everybody that we found, or had a connection, was willing to talk to us. Most of these surviving women had never talked about this subject before, certainly not in front of a camera. One woman commented that she had been alive for such a long, had outlived all the Nazis, and just felt pleased to that she was going to have the last word. The things she told us were quite poignant.
TS: Yes, there is a great quote in your film by Lynn Wallis, one of the surviving women, who says “I did not survive the death camps for nothing! “.
TS: Professor Clauberg had children. Did you make any attempt to interview surviving members of his family?
SW: Yes, we tried to track down his family members and we did find a couple of relatives, but they all tried to distance themselves, so we were unable to confirm their relationships. We found the daughter of one of his brothers, but she was in an assisted living facility and had dementia, so there was nobody we could really talk to from Professor Clauberg’s family that could give us any information.
TS: Tell me about some of the archival footage in your film. Was that difficult to obtain?
SW: Yes and no. Medical footage is often hard to get, especially when it is concerning women. That was probably the hardest part. There is a lot of material from 1940 onward, but it’s harder to get archival footage from the 20s and 30s. We did find that footage, but it always takes time to research what you need.
TS: In 2010, hundreds of Professor Carl Clauberg’s gynecological instruments were unearthed. Where are those tools now?
SW: They are still at Auschwitz which has the largest depository of Holocaust artifacts.They sometimes loan things out for other exhibits, but they are always returned to Auschwitz.
TS: What is your filmmaking background?
SW: I’m a journalist. I write books, I make exhibits, and I make films. The subjects I approach are generally war and trauma and also I look at postwar effects, especially in terms of women and children, and how they lived through wars.
TS: Have you taken this film to a lot of film festivals already?
SW: We took it to the Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco but the fest there in St. Louis will be just our second. In July we will be showing it at the Jewish Film festival in Miami.
TS: Do you consider yourself a movie buff?
SW: No, I would not consider myself a movie buff.
TS: Well I am. You said a book was written about Professor Clauberg. There’s so much drama to the story. I’m just wondering if he as a character ever appeared in a film. I could almost see Peter Lorre playing him in the movies.
SW: Yes, I could see that, but no there has never been any fictionalized version of him. I am so fascinated by the documentary form that I rarely even think about narrative work.
TS: Where are you from, Sonya?
SW: I am originally from Finland and had a German father so I lived in Germany for a while. I now live in Canada so I’ve been all over.
TS: What are your distribution plans for this film?
SW: Distribution is one of our goals. We have a production partner in Israel. They will be taking the film to festivals. We have distributed copies to Brazil and Belgium and are in the middle of getting deals for having the film shown in movie theaters and on television.
TS: MADE IN AUSCHWITZ: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BLOCK 10 is a terrific documentary and I wish you the best with it and all of your future projects.
SW: Thanks you. I’ll see you in St. Louis!