If you’ve never heard of Sonia Warshawski, you’ll never forget her name once you hear her incredible story. Sonia is one of the last remaining Holocaust survivors in Kansas City and one of the only survivors speaking publicly about her wartime experience.
Concentration camps, death marches, and watching her mother disappear behind gas chamber doors fill her teenage memories. She was even accidentally shot through the chest on liberation day and survived yet again. After all the horrors she’s endured, she's chosen to not let hate win—she chooses love every single day and chooses to share her story so that history will not repeat itself.
Sonia is now 94, and her big personality and petite 4’8’’ frame still command the attention of any room she’s in. Whether she’s working at her tailor shop with a customer (which was previously in Metcalf South Mall for 30 years) or giving a speech to hundreds, Sonia spreads her message of love in all that she does. To ensure her incredible story will never be forgotten, Sonia’s granddaughter, Leah Warshawski, produced “Big Sonia.”
“We started making the film when Sonia was 84,” says Leah. “At that time, we didn’t know how much longer she’d be healthy, so we felt the need to begin filming ASAP. We initially wanted to make a short film about Sonia’s shop, John’s Tailoring, but as the story evolved and unfolded it was impossible for us to avoid making a feature film. We’re so proud of how it turned out and know that making a feature was the right way to go.
“Our dream was that Sonia would be healthy enough when we finished the movie to be a part of the film’s release, and to see the impact that her story has on so many people. Fortunately, Sonia was able to come to our festival premiere where we won two awards, and to our theatrical premiere in New York City, and she may just outlive us all! She loves telling people about the movie now and she’s one of our best promoters!
“After what she endured during the war, it’s a miracle she’s alive—the fact that she’s still going into work six days a week is unbelievable. Sonia is a model of resilience for so many people and an example of what’s possible if you choose to make the most out of the life you have. Sonia lives with her trauma and it certainly affects every minute of her life, but she has also chosen a path to educate others and speak as a witness so that hopefully something like the Holocaust never happens again. She is one-of-a-kind—I’ve never met anyone quite like her!”
Leah looks forward to continuing to spread the #SoniaEffect in the Midwest and beyond.
“The #SoniaEffect started in the Midwest inherently because it’s Sonia’s home but has spread across the globe thanks to the global release and success of the movie. We were nominated for best documentary at the Shanghai Film Festival, and you can now see “Big Sonia” on RT TV in Russia. The film screened at 75+ film festivals, won 22 awards, and had a record-breaking theatrical run in Kansas City at The Glenwood Arts movie theater where Sonia is good friends with the owners. This is our 10th year working on the film, and this year we’re focused on education and impact. Currently, only 12 states mandate Holocaust education in classrooms—Kansas and Missouri are not on that list. To make it easy for teachers and schools to use our film, we created an educational package for the movie that comes with multiple discussions guides, including a core-standard curriculum guide. We hope that this will allow the #SoniaEffect to spread even more, but it’s a big task.
“Sonia’s message to the world is simply to love. Her message is to treat others how you want to be treated, and to have compassion for others because you never know what someone has been through. She promotes love and kindness in a time where we could certainly use more of both. Her legacy will be that she impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people of all ages, cultures and genders. Through the film, her shop, and her speaking engagements, Sonia’s message has already reached more than 500,000 people around the world. How many people can say that at 94 years old?!”
To purchase the film, donate, and to learn more information on Sonia and the upcoming events, visit bigsonia.com/impact-campaign.