A Haunting Theme in Warsaw

"Prisoner of Her Past" in Warsaw
Photo courtesy of the Warsaw Jewish Historical Institute

One question kept coming up during the Warsaw premiere of “Prisoner of Her Past,” Oct. 18 in an exhibition space near the Jewish Historical Institute.

Though audience members in the SRO crowd phrased it in different ways, they kept returning to the same motif: Why didn’t my mother talk about her Holocaust trauma after the war? Why was she so silent? Wouldn’t she have avoided the disaster of her current PTSD-induced psychosis if she had just told her story? Don’t people who speak about trauma function much better than those who refuse to speak?

If only it were that simple.

For starters, the medical literature suggests that most survivors did not seek psychiatric help; that those who did generally were not helped significantly; that psychiatrists themselves cued survivors not to share the most gruesome details of their experiences (further discussion of these points can be viagra 100 mg too much found in my book “The First and Final Nightmare of Sonia Reich”).

In short, there was virtually no forum through which the survivors could tell their stories, nor did they feel they had the words to describe the chaos and horrors they witnessed and endured.

Yet there were other reasons not to speak, as well.

“Survivors who don’t tell stories are protecting themselves and their listeners,” said Lukasz Biedka, a psychologist who illuminated the panel discussion following can a cialis be cut in half the Warsaw screening.

“The listeners are as helpless to what happened as the survivors themselves. The listeners
wouldn’t know what to do with this story.

“And the survivors didn’t want to expose themselves to not being understood.

“It’s impossible [for the listener] to feel empathy if you haven’t lived through this yourself. And anyway, empathy isn’t enough.”

For the survivors, added Biedka, “It’s a second trauma when you tell people what happened, and they can’t understand.”

One member of the audience – a daughter of survivors – said she would never make a film about her own mother, thereby putting her mother “under a microscope.”

But this sounded to me like an unfortunate plea for more of the old silence.

As a son and as a journalist, I feel compelled to tell this story, to unveil the truth of what happened as I discover it.

Plus, as psychologist Biedka added, “The film is not just about [Sonia’s] PTSD. It’s about Howard working through his own thoughts.”

Post script: Deep thanks to Edyta Kurek cialis and Olga Zienkiewicz, of the Jewish Historical Institute in U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, for organizing this unforgettable event.

— Howard Reich


  1. I’ve been thinking about this reaction for a while now… Having grown up in Poland, I was curious to see how the film would be received there. I remember that the memory of WWII and Holocaust was very much… cultivated – movies, mandatory visits to the Auschwitz museum in 8th grade, lots of talk in general. Perhaps that is the way the nation as a whole has dealt with the past, and perhaps that’s what some people expect to see, and obviously Sonia’s story is a departure from that known pattern of behavior. In this respect, I’m not really surprised at the questions that were asked. And at the same time, I believe the reaction, so different from that I’ve seen in the US, serves as further proof that the film is much needed. Sonia didn’t grow up in a country where people lived through the events of WWII and didn’t have the same time of collective support system to fall back on. It’s so important to keep stressing the different ways of dealing with trauma and its repercussions.

  2. Isn’t the continued silence also a continuance of her learning NOT to share, not to express, not to divulge the truth? It seems to me to be a mechanism or technique of survival……of living. And what a day-in, day-out difficulty that must have been. I am in awe of you, you lovely, marvelous woman. You could not have sacrificed yourself more than by protecting your precious children. I wish you peace………..

    I also understand the desire of you, Howard, to comprehend and understand the effects of this terrible time in your parents’ childhoods, because that effect imposed itself in your life as well. Your book was a tribute to your mother, and I appreciate the respect you have gained of her through your journey. I admire that you aren’t pushy with her about her past. This was evident in your book. It seemed a little different in the documentary. You ended the book this way “I love my mother for how she really is, a woman whose steadfastness as a child saved her life and eventually gave life to me…who to this day wants nothing more than …to protect the lives of those she loves.” Thus, she wants to remain silent in her suffering…she is a beautiful human and I love how you respect her boundaries in the book with putting the photos away. Refrain from pushing. She’s been pushed enough, don’t you agree? Some things we, as children, just cannot ask. It’s not our place.

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