Ravensbourne Postgraduate | Simona Knuchel – Lost in the Story
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Simona Knuchel – Lost in the Story

From the 1800s until the late 1980s, hundreds of thousands of Swiss children were taken from their parents and placed in ‘administrative custody’, exploited for cheap agricultural or domestic labour as ‘contract children’ or verdingkinder. Swiss children were subject to this state intervention if they were illegitimate, orphaned, or simply born into a poor family. Simona Knuchel’s documentary, Lost in the Story, bears witness to the stories coming from the country’s grim chapter.

 

Switzerland’s shame is by no means unique. Survivors of child abuse, forced adoption or sterilisation have brought forth similar revelations to gain official recognition and apology. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its report based on evidence gathered in the form of testimonies from survivors of Canada’s state-subsidized, church-run Indian Residential Schools, where native children were taken away from their families. In the UK, a formal apology was offered to those affected by the Child Migrants Programme which saw children sent by the British government to Canada and Australia, often having been told they were orphans, although their parents were still very much alive.

 

Knuchel has used her previous experience in broadcasting to make a sensitively produced documentary which is challenging to watch but gives a powerful and reparative voice to those Swiss ‘contract children’ who survived but who live with devastating reminders of a ruined childhood to this day. Her subjects are candid in their accounts and much of it is extremely upsetting.

 

One of the commentators in the documentary mentions that for each of those brave enough to continue telling their story so that it isn’t forgotten, that there were many more who died or were too traumatised to talk of their experiences. Many, it’s noted, committed suicide. Near the close of Lost in the Story, Silas tells how, since he is now reliant on a disability pension (a direct result of the violence and abuse he suffered in his young life) that the bureaucratic process of reapplying for the benefit requires that he recount these traumatic memories – something he has to do every two years. There are several times during the documentary where the survivors explain that they attribute their resilience in adulthood and ability to speak about their experience to the sheer fact of having survived such atrocities as children. Knuchel captures this strength in storytelling and the fact that painful disclosure is so often a part of survival.