Sonia Reich is a Holocaust survivor who, as a child, hid from the Nazis in the forests of Poland and witnessed the murder of family members. Sixty years later, she’s transferred the horrors of her past to the present, experiencing late-onset post- traumatic stress disorder, which manifests in paranoid delusions and hallucinations.
Reich’s son, Howard Reich, wrote “Prisoner of Her Past: A Son’s Memoir” (Northwestern University Press, 2011) about his mother’s life, and has also written, produced and narrated a film by the same name that will be shown on Sunday, April 15 at 1 p.m. at the Tucson Jewish Community Center.
Following the screening, there will be a panel discussion with the filmmaker; Michael Marks, lead psychologist at the Southern Arizona Veterans’ Medical Center; and Holly Jindrick, president of the Southern Arizona Psychological Association. A reception will take place at 3:15 p.m.
“It was so shocking in 2001 when my mother ran out of her house insisting that someone was trying to kill her,” Howard told the AJP. A jazz critic and journalist at the Chicago Tribune, he eventually learned that his mother suffered from late-onset PTSD and he started wondering why so little was known about the disorder by the public, and even by doctors.
In 2004, the Chicago Tribune sent Howard to dig up his family’s past in Eastern Europe. He also engaged in extensive medical research in the United States. The Tribune published “Hunted 60 Years Ago, Sonia is Running Again” (chicagotribune. com/Sonia), which, after the newspaper received hundreds of e-mails — and with encouragement from Howard’s editor, also a child Holocaust survivor — became “Prisoner of Her Past.”
Sonia, now 81, lives in a nursing home and “doesn’t have Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia,” says Howard, yet his mother believes a yellow Star of David is displayed on her clothing.
“If you try to tell her there’s no Star of David she gets infuriated,” he notes. “She won’t take medications and won’t talk to a psychiatrist. Her paranoid delusions are interwoven with her regular life.” His mother feels she’s being threatened by people at the nursing home, Howard continues. “She’s reliving that sense of persecution of 1942 Poland.”
The “Prisoner of Her Past” screening is free, but there is a $20 fee for psychologists and other health care providers who wish to obtain continuing education credit. The event is cosponsored by the Holocaust Resource Center of the Coalition for Jewish Education at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, the Marion Cerf Holocaust Learning Center Fund, and the Southern Arizona Psychological Association. For more information, call Tucsonan Sharon Arkin, a cousin of the Reichs, at 603-2912.