Who's afraid of Alice Miller? A Film by Daniel Howald.

Film

«A film about the long shadow of war.»

Synopsis

Martin is rejected by his cold, uncaring mother and beaten by his father: a childhood without love. It sounds like a case right out of the book “The Drama of the Gifted Child” by world-renowned Swiss psychoanalyst Alice Miller. Except Martin is the son of the children’s rights advocate.

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After Alice Miller’s death, Martin embarks on a journey to finally understand the contradiction between the famous childhood trauma researcher and the destructive mother. He finally discovers what stood between him and his mother: the greatest drama of the 20th century, the Shoah, the annihilation of the Jewish people. As a young Jew, Alice Miller assumed a false identity to survive amidst the Nazis in Warsaw – and was forced to witness all the atrocities. But Alice repressed these traumatic experiences, disassociating herself from them for the rest of her life. The deeper Martin digs into his mother’s biography, the clearer it becomes: his own emotional pain is the legacy of something that he himself never experienced.

«A journey into the repressed trauma of the mother.»

«A quest to find one’s own roots.»

Director’s Note

Only a few remain among us who experienced the Holocaust firsthand and can bear witness to the unspeakable horror. Soon it will be reduced to a 20th century event, existing only in the pages of history books, where it will slowly recede into the annals of time. Or will it? In reality, that is a great fallacy. War and persecution live on in the descendants of victims and cause great suffering every day, and that is the subject of this film. Severe war trauma lasts longer than one lifetime. It is passed on to the next generations. Although Martin was born in the safety of Switzerland in 1950, the abyss of the Holocaust continues to wreak havoc within him today.

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There is more and more evidence to show that the second generation, the descendants of genocide and war crime survivors, display extremely severe trauma symptoms. And this is the case, even though they never even experienced the traumatic events themselves, having been born after the war ended. In psychology, this is known as transgenerational legacy. Parents unconsciously pass on the fear and suffering caused by persecution to their children. These children grow into adults, never understanding what happened to them, nor being able to put a name to the pain they experience.

The descendants of perpetrators can be affected by this as well. And it will surely affect all the children whose parents are coming to us today as traumatized war refugees. The more these parents disassociate from and repress their own war trauma in order to survive, the more severe this problem becomes.

This film looks at one way of facing this inherited trauma. Martin sets off to discover and explore what his mother went through in the past. By gaining knowledge and developing an awareness of their parents’ unspoken experiences, children can understand their own feelings and unearth the root cause which has been shrouded in darkness. Martin was part of the war, even though he’d never experienced war himself. Coming to terms with that context and the knowledge that was kept from him, helps him resolve his transgenerational trauma.

In Martin’s story, the historical and the personal are profoundly and uniquely interwoven. He is the emotional heir to his mother, who disassociated from her own war trauma with all her might, and at the same time, saw through and denounced the mechanisms of violence with almost prophetic vision. She was one of the first to openly address the subject of sexual abuse and she actively opposed physical child abuse, even writing letters on the subject to the Pope and to leading politicians. But in her personal life, she was a different person altogether. There, she unconsciously reenacted her repressed trauma. Perceiving her own son as the persecutor, the war continued within her. There were two Alice Millers, and between them was a wall.

This film is an attempt to break down that wall. Martin has the courage to face his childhood trauma. He thus heeds the demands that his mother made in her role as a public figure: to break the vicious cycle of violence. For if we do not, to put it in the words of Alice Miller, “… the devastating consequences of the traumatization of children will take their inevitable toll on society.”

Protagonists

«I can feel my parents’ feelings, yet I have no connection to that reality.»

Martin Miller, Psychotherapist, Son of Alice Miller

Martin Miller is a psychotherapist who was born to two Polish war refugees in 1950. His mother was Alice Miller, the world-famous child psychologist who rose to fame in the 1970s. His father, Andrzej Miller, was a sociology professor and the general secretary of the Rektorenkonferenz der Schweizer Universitäten (The Rectors' Conference of Swiss Universities). After training to be a primary school teacher, Martin studied psychology and now works as a therapist. Immediately after he was born, he put in the care of relatives. He spent the first months of his life with his second cousin, Irenka, who was very young at the time. For Martin, Irenka represents the mother he never had. Martin was then put in a children’s home and did not return to his parents until he was five years old. At home, he was beaten and humiliated. He spent the last years of his childhood at a Catholic boarding school. Today Martin lives with his wife and his two dogs Queenie and Kid in Uster, near Zurich Switzerland.

«What could torment a child more than the mother’s unconscious?»

Alice Miller, Author, Psychologist und Childhood Researcher

Alice Miller was born to Jewish parents in 1923 in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland. She survived Nazi persecution in Warsaw. After the war she emigrated to Switzerland, together with her cousin and her future husband, Andrzej Miller. Alice studied philosophy under Karl Jaspers in Basel, ultimately earning her doctorate. She then moved to Zurich where she trained to be a psychoanalyst. Her book "The Drama of the Gifted Child," published in 1979, made Alice Miller famous almost overnight. The book would be translated into several languages, and Alice Miller would become an authority in the field of children's rights and education. Miller developed theses on the origins and transmission of violence, strategies for fundamental societal change, and the prevention of war. Alice Miller moved to Southern France in 1985, where she lived and worked in seclusion until her death in 2010.

« If it hadn’t been for a miracle, I would’ve gone to Treblinka.»

Irenka Taurek, Psychotherapist, Cousin of Alice Miller

Irenka Taurek was born to Jewish parents in 1933 in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland. She survived the Holocaust in a dramatic escape with her parents, which eventually led her to camps in Siberia and Uzbekistan. After the war she returned to Poland. Due to the threat of continuing anti-Semitism in Poland, her parents decided to emigrate to Switzerland. As a young woman Irenka then left Switzerland for the USA, where she studied Russian before training to become a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist. She married the philosopher John Taurek and had three children with him. Irenka is the cousin of Alice Miller and the second cousin of Martin.

«I knew if I wanted to make public the taboo subject of child abuse in Switzerland, I’d need a big name. And that name was Alice Miller.»

Cornelia Kazis, Journalistin

Cornelia Kazis worked as the editor for parenting and education issues at Schweizer Radio (Swiss Radio) for over 30 years. She is a journalist and publicist, and winner of the Egon Erwin Kisch Prize. Right at the beginning of her career, she hosted an extensive radio broadcast with Alice Miller on the subject of child abuse. She was one of the only people who ever managed to get a long interview with Alice Miller. Cornelia Kazis lives and works in Basel.

«The wall of silence and the reenactment of violence that takes place behind it, leads to violence within the family, and at a historical level, to war.»

Oliver Schubbe, Trauma Therapist

Oliver Schubbe is a trauma therapist and head of the Institut für Traumatherapie (Institute for Trauma Therapy) in Berlin. He was one of the first to introduce trauma therapy to Europe. Alice Miller heard about the specialist, who was a young man at the time, and chose him as her therapist. He is acquainted with both sides of the conflict-ridden history between Martin and his Mother. Due to what is known as psychological transmission, Alice Miller perceived her son as a Nazi persecutor. Schubbe sees this as a particularly tragic case of transgenerational trauma inheritance. Alice Miller expressly released her therapist Oliver Schubbe from his therapeutical confidentiality for the time following her death.

«It is the profound realization that the war is not yet over.»

Ania Dodziuk, Psychotherapist

As Ania Dodziuk herself says, she’s been a psychotherapist for what feels like an eternity, and happily so. She is over 80 years old and was the best friend of Alice Miller’s sister, Irena, who recently passed away. Ania is politically active and takes a critical view of the situation in Poland. She compares it to Hungary and says that as far as anti-Semitic tendencies and right-wing populism are concerned, her country isn’t so far away from Orban. She sees Martin’s story as a “structural tragedy,” brought about by the war and the Holocaust.

Katrin Stoll, Holocaust Researcher

Historian Katrin Stoll has lived and worked in Warsaw since 2010. She is a Holocaust scholar, specialized in Täterforschung (perpetrator research) and the criminal prosecution of Nazi crimes in the Federal Republic of Germany. She comes from Bielefeld and is a research associate at the Imre Kertész Kolleg Jena. Together with Martin Sander, she assisted Martin with his research in Poland.

Martin Sander, Journalist

Martin Sander comes from Berlin and studied Polish studies. He works as a freelance journalist for various radio and television broadcasters including Deutschlandfunk, Deutschlandradio, Deutsche Welle, NDR, BR, RBB, and NZZ. He commutes between Warsaw and Berlin and is writing a book entitled “Everyday Life and Resistance in Occupied Warsaw”. He also works as an interpreter and is an experienced researcher. Together with Katrin Stoll, he assisted Martin with his research in Poland.

«That’s the tragic part of searching through documents. We get some details, but we never get the whole story.»

Matan Shefi, Historian

Matan Shefi works as a historian at Jewish Genealogy and Family Heritage Center, a branch of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. He moved to Warsaw after studying in Jerusalem. He knows the archives and databanks of his institute inside and out and assists Jewish descendants in their search for their roots. He helped Martin research his mother’s situation during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw.

Elżbieta Janicka, Cultural Scientist

Elżbieta is a cultural scientist descended from a family of Polish intellectuals. She was born in Warsaw and studied in Paris. Her main area of research is anti-Semitism in Poland up to and including the present day. Among others, she studied under the famous political philosopher Stefan Morawski, who happened to be Alice Miller’s great love interest in her youth during the war.

News

Nomination for The Solothurn Film Festival

Who’s Afraid of Alice Miller was nominated for the Prix du Soleure – Jury Award 2020.
The Solothurn Film Festival (In competition: Prix de Soleure - Jury Award)

Nomination

World Premiere

The Solothurn Film Festival (In competition: Prix de Soleure - Jury Award)
Saturday 25 January 2020, 8:45 p.m. at the “Landhaus”
Wednesday 29 January 2020, 12:30 p.m. at the “Reithalle”

Vorpremieren Schweiz

27.08.2020 Basel (kult.kino mit anschliessendem Dialog )
1.09.2020 St.Gallen (Kinok mit anschliessendem Podium)
4.09.2020 Bern (Cinématte mit anschliessendem Dialog))
Oktober Zürich
November Luzern

.

Team

Daniel Howald, Director

Born in 1966 in Basel. Trained as a director and dramaturg for radio plays and documentaries at Swiss Radio DRS, while attending a two-year journalist training program at the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SRG SSR). He holds degrees (M.A.) in literature, philosophy and ethnology, and studied film for several years in Paris, Düsseldorf and Switzerland. Author and director of numerous television programs, radio plays and documentary films. Freelance director, dramaturg and scriptwriter since 1997. Member of the European Film Academy.

Frank Matter, Producer

Freelance filmmaker and producer since 1991. He began working in New York in 1993 and returned to Switzerland in 2006, where he is still based. Owner of soap factory GmbH, a film production company based in Basel.
Films directed: Parallel Lives (2020), Von heute auf morgen (From one Day to the Next) (2013), The Definition of Insanity (2004), The Beauty of My Island (1999), Morocco (1996), Hannelore (1993). Films produced: Der Gletscher kalbt nicht mehr (in development), Play with the Devil (in production), Flannery’s (in production), Ruäch (in production), Who’s afraid of Alice Miller? (2020), Arada (2020), I’ll be your mirror (2019), Ciao Babylon (2017), Thomas Hirschhorn – Gramsci Monument (2015), La buena vida (2015), Grozny Blues (2015), Nel giardino dei suoni (In the Garden of Sounds) (2010). For more information: www.soapfactory.ch

Credits

With
Martin Miller, Irenka Taurek
Anja Dodziuk, Martin Sander
Katrin Stoll, Elszbieta Janicka
Cornelia Kazis, Oliver Schubbe, Matan Shefi
Piotr Morawski, Jacek Bednarek, Jan Jagielski, Ryszard Pasternak
and many more

With the voices of
Katharina Thalbach
Hanspeter Müller-Drossaart

Written and directed by
Daniel Howald

Co-written by
Annina Butterworth

A SwissDok GmbH production
In co-production with
SRF Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen SRG SSR

Produced by
Frank Matter

Cinematography (Poland, Germany)
Gabriel Sandru, Ramon Giger

Cinematography (USA)
Ramòn Giger

Location sound (Poland, Germany)
Matteo De Pellegrini

Location sound (USA)
Reto Stamm

Edited by
Christof Schertenleib, Daniel Howald

Music by
Raphael B. Meyer

Sound design
Reto Stamm, Daniel Howald

Assistant director
Annina Butterworth

Location manager
Carl G. Friedrich

Line producers
Thabea Furrer, Frank Matter

Commissioning editor SRF
Urs Augstburger

Additional camera
Ramòn Giger, Simon Guy Fässler, Jonas Jäggi

Drone operator
Martin Schuhmacher, air-view

Assistant editors
Rebecca Siegfried Reischer, Carmen Walker

Fundraising, backoffice
Loredana-Nastassja Fernández

Production assistant
Vivienne Kuster

Additional research (Poland)
Katrin Stoll, Martin Sander

Research assistant (Switzerland)
Ulrike Kiessling

Translations (Polish)
Gosia Kaminska, Sofia Polek

Music recording and mixing
Martin Offik

Guitars & E-bass
Mirko Arnone

Piano
Liliane Christ

Viola da Gamba
Matthieu Gutbub

Percussion
Jonas Prina

Sound editing
Matteo De Pellegrini

Sound mixing
Patrick Becker, nurTon GmbH

Re-recording mixing
Dominik Avenwedde, Filmsounddesign

Voice recordings
Basis Berlin, Idee und Klang, Digiton GmbH

Grading
Hannes Rüttimann

Video post-production
Postino

Graphic design
Jens Müller

Website
Haus Kato

Subtitles
Manuela Vonwiller, ZAXAPH

Project accountant
Peter Hechler

Legal advisor
Dr. Adriano Viganò

Archive material and sources:

Radio interview
«Dem Schweigen ein Ende. Sexueller Missbrauch von Kindern und Jugendlichen in der Familie»
by Cornelia Kazis
18.06.1987, DRS1

TV interview
«I begynnelsen var oppdragelsen»
by Anne Elisabeth Andersen
3. & 6.2.1987, NRK

TV discussion on the film
«Wenn es unmöglich erscheint, ein Leben zu leben»
by Marion Bornschier, DRS, Hanspeter Riklin,
30.1.1980

Documentary «Ida and Irena»
by Piotr Morawski, Kalejdoskop Film,
2016

Alice Miller, «Wege des Lebens»
@ Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1998
Courtesy of Suhrkamp Verlag

Essay KTO-M ZACZ?
by Stefan Morawski, Losy żydowskie, editor Marian Turski,
Stowarzyszenie Żydów Kombatantów i Poszkodowanych
w II Wojnie Światowej, Warsaw,
1996

Files regarding Alice Rostovska and
Andrej Miller, Staatsarchiv Basel, Switzerland

Files regarding Alice Rostovska and
Andrej Miller, University of Lodz, Warsaw

«Das wahre Drama des begabten Kindes»,
Martin Miller, Kreuz-Verlag,
Freiburg 2013

Photos and letters from the private
archives of Martin Miller

Letters from the private
archives of Oliver Schubbe

 
 
@ SwissDok 2020
ISAN: 0000-0004-8B46-0000-E-0000-0000-W

Contact

Verleih Schweiz

Royal Film
Luftgässlein 4
4051 Basel

verleih@royal-film.ch

Production / World Sales

SwissDok GmbH
Rheingasse 50
CH-4058 Basel

mail@swissdok.ch

Press

Hannes Nüsseler, WOZ

«Who’s afraid of Alice Miller? (...) shows impressively how genocide can traumatize the world up to the present.»
Hannes Nüsseler, Die Wochenzeitung – WOZ, 23rd January 2020

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Brigitte Häring, SRF

«Once again Switzerland shows its strength in documentary. I was greatly impressed by „Who’s afraid of Alice Miller?“»
Brigitte Häring, Schweizer Radio SRF1, Kulturaktualität, 29th January 2020

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Girogia del Don, Cineuropa

«The film keeps us constantly on the edge of our seats, but it doesn’t gloat over our inevitable indignation. It’s an exploration of the human psyche, which asks more questions than it answers.»
Giorgia del Don, Cineuropa, 30.1.2020

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