The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Son of Holocaust victim seeks answers in history

By Marley Malenfant/se news editor

One generation removed from the Holocaust, arts critic Howard Reich never heard the full story of his mother’s survival.  Photo by Marley Malenfant/The Collegian
One generation removed from the Holocaust, arts critic Howard Reich never heard the full story of his mother’s survival. Photo by Marley Malenfant/The Collegian

Sonia Reich woke up in the middle of the night in her Chicago suburb and screamed, “They’re going to put a bullet in my head!”

Reich suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder but refuses to seek professional help or take any medication. The cause of her disorder comes from her dark childhood in the ghetto of Dubno, Poland, during World War II. Howard Reich, a Chicago Tribune arts critic and son of Sonia Reich, decided his mother’s story needed to be told. In 2006, Reich released his book on his mother’s time during the Holocaust, The First and Final Nightmare of Sonia Reich.

Reich followed up on his mother’s story with his documentary Prisoner of Her Past, which debuted Nov. 4 on SE Campus.

Reich said the film isn’t just about his mother but how people should address harrowing situations of their past right away.

“When people suffer from trauma, they need to be treated as soon as the trauma occurs,” he said. “You have to intervene right away.”

Reich said his mother moved to Chicago at 16 but never knew how she made it from Poland.

“My mother was sent to the ghetto at the age of 10 in 1942,” he said. “All Jews were forced to move to this little ghetto by the Nazis and were later killed. Most of the 12,000 Jews there were killed. We don’t know how she escaped. She won’t talk about it.” 

Reich grew up on the North Side of Chicago. Reich said his parents were strict, and he disliked school. It wasn’t until Reich was 16 that he found his passion for music, which led to his career in journalism. Reich has worked at the Chicago Tribune for 27 years.

“I discovered music late,” he said. “I became passionate about something. That never happened before. It changed who I was since. I was a music major at Northwestern. It occurred to me later that I should write about music since writing came natural to me.”

Reich said his mother showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder when he was growing up. In the film, his sister says their mother always slept with a meat ax under her pillow.

“The meat ax under her pillow showed how that fear never left her,” he said. “My mother always had a bag packed with all of her essentials. Clothes, food, toothpaste, anything you need when you’re on the run.”

Reich said his relationship with his mother was secluded when he was a teenager and the mood of his family was always angry.

“Growing up in a family of Holocaust survivors was very difficult,” he said. “It was distant when I was growing up. My wife says I’m closer to [my mother] now than when I was a kid. She was strict and severe. She was tough, and now I see why.”

Reich had the opportunity to travel to his mother’s hometown, now in Ukraine, for the documentary. He said shooting the scene in his mother’s neighborhood was an intricate part of the film. The scene showed a field in the neighborhood where Nazis took the Jews and killed them.

“That was a very difficult scene because you’re there where all this tragedy occurred,” he said.

In one scene, Reich walks into a nursing home in Chicago to see his mother. Reich shows his mother pictures of her in his book, but she is quick to say it isn’t her. Reich said it’s a sign of her stubbornness.

“When I show her old pictures of herself, she denies the photos,” he said. “I ask her, ‘Who is that?’ And she says, ‘a monkey.’”

In a later scene, Reich attends a jazz concert in New Orleans. He talks to a girl who was a victim of Hurricane Katrina. The girl, like Reich’s mother, says she always has a bag packed in case she has to leave. Reich said he wanted to illustrate a connection between Katrina and the Holocaust.

“I didn’t use that scene to say that the Holocaust and Katrina were the same thing,” he said. “There was some controversy to whether or not I should keep that scene. The idea was to show that no one is too young or old to go through a traumatic situation. I don’t want trauma to affect people 60 years later like it did to my mother.”

 

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