‘Prisoner of Her Past’ still reaching audiences

More than 13 years after its release, “Prisoner of Her Past” continues to screen for audiences across the country.

On Oct. 25, I brought the film about my mother, Sonia Reich, to Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., where I had appeared in 2020 with my book “The Art of Inventing Hope: Intimate Conversations with Elie Wiesel.”

Chuck Cloud Photography,

As before, I began my Oakland residency visiting students and speaking about the making of “Prisoner of Her Past.” Next came an evening screening – open to the public – that drew an audience from across Michigan.

The students’ responses, written for Professor Michael Pytlik, make for rewarding reading.

“Sonia, unlike most of the [Holocaust] survivors I have listened to from past films and events attended, did not want to discuss the Holocaust in any regard, and yet she still lives as though she is in it,” wrote one student. “Even on the surface level, one can see how the past is still defining Sonia’s present. … The told and untold events that took place at Dubno [Sonia’s Polish hometown] were chilling, and it does not come as a surprise that Sonia does not wish to discuss them. She has pushed her past away.”

Or tried to. Tragically, her past resurfaced to haunt her.

Wrote another student: “Although I am not Jewish, I consider myself a humane person. What happened to the Jewish population during those years [of the Holocaust] was anything but humane! … Although Howard Reich is a journalist by trade, the film did not feel like he was just doing another article for a paper. There was a genuine concern to learn why his mother had seemingly regressed into a person of delusions that he never knew. … You could tell that this story was personal and dear to his heart.”

Indeed, no story has ever been more important to me.

“Howard’s dedication and tenacity in setting out on his own to discover this story for himself inspires me to have the same view in my life,” wrote another student. “I hope one day I find a similar opportunity and have the same courage Howard had to take a leap of faith and truly discover a deeper aspect of life.”

After the screening, audience members offered an avalanche of questions and responses.

“I’m a child of survivors, and my sister is angry that our parents never told us the story,” one gentleman told me. “Are you angry at your parents?”

“Absolutely not,” I responded. “I’m grateful for their heroism in surviving and for making life possible for myself, my sister and the generations to come.”

Someone in the audience inquired as to why I never asked my parents about what happened to them during the Holocaust.

“When you’re 10 or 12 or 15 years old, I believe you’re typically more interested in your own life than in your parents’ stories,” I said.

“And, anyway, I don’t know if my parents would have said anything, if I’d asked.

“But I sure wish I had.”

On Sept. 27, I brought “Prisoner of Her Past” to the Charleston Library Society, where director Gordon Quinn and I had brought “For the Left Hand” in 2022.

A large swath of Charleston’s Jewish community came out for the event, many of them adult children of survivors, like me.

“How do you go about telling your parents’ story?” one son of survivors asked.

“You just sit down and begin to write,” I responded. “Every memory, every detail. As you start to write, it all will come back to you.”

Photos courtesy of Chuck Cloud Photography

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