By all accounts and purposes, Howard Reich and his sister had an ordinary Midwestern upbringing. Raised in the Jewish faith by two Holocaust survivors in comforting Skokie, Ill., Reich is unaware of the quicksand threatening to strangle his mother.
With robust fodder of Holocaust survival typically reserved for large family gatherings, Reich finds solace in the sweet notes of Bach and Ravel. His diversion becomes his passion, which segues into the blazing gig of jazz critic for the Chicago Tribune. He manages to make it to adulthood unaware of the ashes of torment from which his mother emerged.
It is a call from the Skokie police that serves as Reich’s springboard to the past.
After 60 years of suppressing her childhood trauma, Reich’s mother, Sonia, is caught running down the street, suitcases packed, in an effort to once again escape the perils of Nazi occupation. She is convinced someone is chasing her with the intent to put a bullet in her head.
At age 69, the quicksand has finally engulfed her mind. She is no longer the widow, the mother, the grandmother or the neighbor to whom every person in her life is acquainted. She is reverted into the Jewish child of her past… thrust onto the dirty roads of the Polish ghettos during World War II.
Sonia is living with rarely diagnosed late-onset post traumatic stress disorder.
Confounded by the loss of the mother he once knew, Reich switches into journalism mode to find the pathway unlocking the secrets hiding beneath his silver haired heroine.
His journey begins by jotting down notes – as any reporter would begin his story. He is then taken to an aunt in New York with insider knowledge of escaping the ghettos as a child, before being swept off to Europe to speak with a cousin, Leon, who may well be holding the flashlight capable of piercing Sonia’s darkness.
Reich’s work started as an article for the Tribune before melting into a series of articles, which would eventually become a book and finally a profound documentary for PBS. “Prisoner of Her Past” is a family sculpture etched by history and softened by the strength of character. The film is soulful with an arc of resolve and a yearning for life. Reich answers a call to duty with his dedication to the truth and his destiny to educate.