Local filmmaker tells story of her grandmother, Holocaust survivor in 'Big Sonia'

"Big Sonia" is a new documentary from Seattle filmmaker Leah Warshawski about her grandmother, a bigger than life Holocaust survivor who still has a big impact. (image: Big Sonia FB Page)

Seattle filmmaker Leah Warshawski has people across the world talking about her powerful new documentary, "Big Sonia."

It tells the story of Sonia, a remarkable 91-year-old businesswoman whose life revolves around a tiny tailor shop in an abandoned mall in Kansas City.

"Sonia's shop is amazing," said Warshawski. "It's a magical healing spot. People come in, and they don't always bring their tailoring. They come in really for their own redemption. People come in just to be in Sonia's presence really."

The fact that Sonia's shop is the lone survivor in the abandoned mall is no surprise. After all, Sonia herself is a survivor.

"I am originally from Poland," said Sonia. "Eastern Poland. I had a very nice childhood, I must say; loving parents."

But everything changed in 1939 when the Nazis invaded.

"When the SS came in," said Sonia. "I'll never forget, the first thing they did, they took out all the rabbis from our town, and we had to watch how they killed them. I will never forget things like this."

The film depicts the life of a woman, a Holocaust survivor, and how that is the basis for everything she does in her personality and her day-to-day life. Sharing Sonia's story is a labor of love for Warshawski.

"You know she's small. She's only four foot eight, but she's big in every other way," she said. "So she's got big hair, a big car, a huge personality, big impact - and she happens to be my grandmother."

But Warshawski had no way of knowing that mid-way through filming of the documentary, her grandmother would receive devastating news. After 30 years of doing business, Sonia was being evicted.

So the question becomes: at 91 years old, can Sonia start again? And how will her past continue to define her future?

To find out you'll have to see the film. We do know that when we caught up with her during a recent visit to Seattle, she told us she's staying busy, promoting her granddaughter's movie and more importantly - speaking with school children about the Holocaust.

"This is really my very first choice," said Sonia. "Because this is the future generation and I want to share it with them. How it's important to read history, because this is very, very important. Its like another window open to you to the world, and we should be informed"

Right now, the filmmakers are trying to raise enough money to release 'Big Sonia' in theaters this fall. For more information on the film and how you might be able to see it, log on to

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