Documentary follows son’s journey to understand mother’s past

Zbigniew Bzdak
Sonia Reich, the subject of ‘Prisoner of Her Past.’

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

“Prisoner of Her Past” is the heartfelt story of Sonia Reich, who spent much of her childhood separated from her family and running from the Nazis in Poland. Now, 60 years later and living in a nursing home in the suburbs of Chicago, Sonia believes she is being hunted again, convinced that someone is trying to put a bullet in her head. So certain is she of this, that several years earlier she fled her home in the middle of the night, with two shopping bags of her belongings, to get away from her killers.

The hour-long documentary, being shown as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival, retraces the efforts of Sonia’s son, Howard Reich, who is the jazz critic for the Chicago Tribune, as he tries to understand his mother’s past. She is diagnosed as suffering from late-onset post-traumatic stress disorder and as such, is reliving the events of a childhood that she had always refused to discuss.

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Howard’s journey takes him to Eastern Europe, including his mother’s native village of Dubno, Poland. Through interviews he conducts with villagers as well as some of Sonia’s relatives and her psychiatrist, Howard begins to piece together what must have been the horrors and struggles that formed his mother’s early life.

The film begs some questions that go unanswered, most of which have to due with Sonia’s current mental state. But theatergoers who attend Sunday’s screening will be able to ask Howard Reich about that and more at a Q&A session following the screening.

For students of the Holocaust as well as those interested in this little understood psychiatric disorder, “Prisoner of Her Past” assuredly sheds some light on what can happen when searing emotional wounds are left untreated.

‘Prisoner of Her Past’

When: 1:30 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 21

Where: Plaza Frontenac Cinema

More info: Writer/producer/star Howard Reich will conduct a Q&A after the film.