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Interrupted Lives: Catholic Sisters Under European Communism

Currently in production at NGM is a one-hour broadcast documentary, Interrupted Lives: Catholic Sisters Under European Communism, set for completion in 2009.

The program features interviews with Catholic Sisters who lived under Soviet governments and their religious oppression after World War 2 in five Eastern European countries-- Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and the Ukraine. All Christian believers and Catholics—bishops, priests, Sisters and laypeople—suffered religious discrimination and persecution by the Soviets, but this program looks specifically at the experiences of religious Sisters. The stories of Roman Catholic as well as Eastern Rite Catholic Sisters will be featured.

The “survivors” are now in the 70s-to-90s-age range (much like the survivors of the Jewish Holocaust) and lived through various attempts of the Communist regimes to suppress religion and religious expression. These included harsh imprisonment; physical, mental and emotional torture; exile to Siberia and other remote locations; house imprisonment in “concentration convents;” enforced labor in factories or on collectivized state farms; midnight arrests and deportations from convents and motherhouses; seizure of Catholic schools, hospitals and institutions; the complete suppression of religious orders and a ban on wearing religious habits and veils.

This period of suppression lasted almost 40 years—from 1948 to 1989—finally ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism across Eastern Europe.

NGM crews have made two location shooting trips to Eastern Europe and have collected about 60 interviews with Sisters who lived through this period. Shooting has taken place in prisons, concentration convents, confiscated schools and hospitals, monks’ monasteries where Sisters were rounded up and held; houses and apartments where Sisters met secretly in defiance of the police and informers; and in chapels and convents, now restored to the Sisters’ communities.

Shooting has been done in and around Warsaw, Poland; Budapest, Hungary; Bratislava and Trnava, Slovakia; Cluj and Bucharest, Romania; and L’viv, Ukraine. Additional US shooting and interviews are also underway.

Judith Ann Zielinski, OSF, is writing and producing the program; Doug Thomas is directing dramatic sequences; Lynn King serves as director of photography; and David Grove is providing audio/ technical support. Larry Bilinski will edit the program.

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