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Village Shalom Resident Gets Small Cameo in ‘Big Sonia’

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“Big Sonia,” part of which was filmed in Village Shalom resident Ann Federman’s villa, is a documentary centered on the life of her sister-in-law and Holocaust survivor, Sonia Warshawski.

 

Forced into Nazi concentration camps at 14-years-old, sister-in-laws Sonia Warshawski and Ann Federman share more than a simple family bond.

“Sonia and I are the last two surviving family members,” said Ann. “Between the two of us, we have stayed together. We have been best friends ever since.”

The two have one common goal— to defy anti-Semitism and never allow the world to forget what unfolded during one of the most treacherous times in modern-history, even if it means sharing their worst experiences with countless strangers. 

Sister-in-laws Sonia (left) and Ann (right) have been best friends since they came to the United States after surviving Nazi concentration camps. 

Big Sonia, a documentary set to make its Kansas City theatrical debut, Dec. 1, cements Sonia’s story, exploring her inspirational bravery. After the harrowing events of her experiences at Auschwitz — one of the deadliest concentration camps in World War II — Sonia has still lived a full-life.

Although the movie centers on Sonia, she kept Ann involved. A segment of the documentary was filmed in Ann’s villa at Village Shalom.

“I was just sitting down in the background of the scene because [Sonia] wanted me to be a part of it,” said Ann.

Ann and Sonia met shortly after the liberation.  Many displaced Holocaust survivors were sent to the Bergen-Belson Displaced Persons Camp where Sonia met John Warshawski— Ann’s brother, and Ann met her husband, Isak Federman.

All four of them had experienced different camps before being united at Bergen-Belson.

“It just so happened that [Sonia] wound up in the most horrible camp that you would never believe. Auschwitz is a camp that when you go in there, very few come out alive, it’s an oven,” said Ann, who herself was placed at Parschnitz, a labor camp in Czechoslovakia.

“I took care of three machines spinning threads for the Germans, from morning all the way into the night,” said Ann. “I was 14 when I got there and nearly 20 when I left.”

At Auschwitz, Sonia saw her mother for the last time as she was forced into a gas chamber, leaving Sonia to fight for her life alone.

After the nightmarish war ended, Ann and her then fiancé left Bergen-Belson to head for a new life in America. They settled in Kansas City where they were joined by Sonia and her husband shortly after.

Determined to keep the horrific memory of the Holocaust alive and not forgotten, they took Holocaust education into their own hands. They believed spreading awareness of the Holocaust’s haunting truths could prevent something similar from ever happening again.

Isak, who passed away last year, co-founded the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education in 1993, a platform he, Ann and Sonia used to tell their stories and many others. Sonia’s husband, John passed away in 1987.

Big Sonia doesn’t hold back on the terrors that unfolded during at the concentration and labor camps, but through Sonia’s liveliness, also offers a look into how someone can experience such trepidation and come out on the other side.

Ann says she was “elated” the first time she saw Big Sonia, she had to see it a second time and hopes to see it a third. 

“[Big Sonia] did justice and more,” said Ann. “Parents should encourage their children to see this movie. There’s so much going on right now, and so many say [the Holocaust] never happened. They can see Sonia is a live person who went through it.”

Big Sonia will premiere at the Glenwood Arts Theater from Dec. 1-7.