Holocaust survivor ‘Big Sonia’ to speak at KU; free screening of acclaimed documentary scheduled

photo by: Contributed photo

Sonia Warshawski sits in her tailor shop in Kansas City, Kan. She is the star of "Big Sonia," a documentary film made by her granddaughter, which will be shown for free Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, at the Dole Institute of Politics.

Sonia Warshawski, a 92-year-old great-grandmother, businesswoman and Holocaust survivor, will speak at the Dole Institute of Politics on Oct. 19, sharing her experiences and answering questions.

But first, the public is invited to view the critically acclaimed documentary about her, “Big Sonia,” which will be shown at 2 p.m. Friday at the Dole Institute, 2350 Petefish Drive. The film was produced by Sonia’s granddaughter, Leah Warshawski, who will be on hand for a question-and-answer session following the free screening.

“We are excited to offer two different opportunities to engage with the story,” said Audrey Coleman, assistant director and senior archivist at the Dole Institute. One week the public can talk to the creator of the film, and the next they can meet the star.

In 1942, when the Polish-born Sonia was 17, the Nazis forced the Jews, including Sonia and her family, into a ghetto. Sonia and her mother were then sent to a death camp, where she watched her mother go into the gas chamber. After the war, she met her husband, John, at a displaced persons camp. They arrived in Kansas City, Kan., in 1948, where they opened a tailor shop and raised three children.

It was Warshawski’s larger-than-life personality that led her filmmaker granddaughter to create the documentary that captures the spry woman who became an inspirational public speaker at schools and prisons.

The Institute chose to host the back-to-back events because of the shared experiences of Bob Dole and Sonia Warshawski.

“Senator Dole is a veteran of World War II and Sonia is a contemporary of his,” said Coleman, noting that time is running out to talk to people who either fought in WWII or lived through the experience.

“We need to have the conversations,” Coleman said. “We are losing firsthand opportunities to talk to this generation. What does that mean going forward?”

Coleman said the institute was taking an intergenerational approach to the upcoming events, encouraging local high school students to attend the film screening as well as the following week’s event with Sonia in person.

“The common thread between Sonia and Senator Dole is that they took their experiences and they moved forward rather than looking back,” Coleman said. “They have used their experiences to make a difference in the community.”


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