Seattle filmmakers shoot documentary ‘Big Sonia' at Metcalf South Shopping Center

KC Holocaust survivor is the focus of documentary

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. - Moving day is quickly approaching for the handful of shop owners that remain at Metcalf South Shopping Center at 95th Street and Metcalf in Overland Park. A developer purchased the mall in February and the news was quickly followed by an announcement the mall would be torn down.

Inside the mall, the tiny, little woman who owns John’s Tailor Shop still goes about her day talking to customers and offering advice. But now she’s also the subject of a new documentary that’s in the process of being filmed.

Sonia Warshawski is one of Kansas City’s few living Holocaust survivors. 41 Action News’ Christa Dubill profiled Warshawski in November 2013.

In 1937, German soldiers yanked Sonia and her family from their home in Poland. Sonia’s father and sister escaped; her mother was put to death in a gas chamber at the same camp where Sonia was being held.

After the war ended, Sonia met her husband, John, at the Bergen-Belson displaced persons camp. They eventually settled in the Kansas City area and opened John’s Tailor Shop.

John passed away years later but Sonia continued to run the tailoring shop for decades. However, Sonia was given an eviction notice and must be out by the first week of July.

It’s because of that urgency Sonia’s granddaughter Leah Warshawski and her husband Todd Soliday recently traveled from Seattle to Kansas City.

The couple are documentary filmmakers and Sonia is the subject of their newest project entitled, ‘Big Sonia’.

 "I think not only because of her past and her history, there's an obvious story to be heard and told,” Soliday told 41 Action News. “She just has a knack for reaching people.”

Leah Warshawski and Soliday’s most recent project was the documentary, "Finding Hillywood" about the country of Rwanda's growing film industry. It was not only screened in Kansas City, but at film festivals around the world.

When discussing their newest project Soliday told 41 Action News the impact Sonia has when speaking to others about what she endured during the Holocaust – especially students - is obvious.

“We've spent countless hours going with her to speaking engagements where you're in front of an audience with 7th and 8th graders texting away and you wouldn’t expect their attention for longer than 20 minutes,” Soliday said. “As soon as she starts talking, that room is silent and you look around and there are tears for kids who you think would be the hardest to reach.”

But it’s not only students who Sonia connects with but also her customers, whether they enter her shop for tailoring or just to talk.

“We have a joke too that beyond Sonia's history and her past Sonia has a way of giving you the best advice you never asked for,” Soliday said.

“She's a unique character in a dying generation and the fact that the mall was also dying was also interesting. Definitely parallel themes," Leah Wiskowski added. 

She's hopping Sonia’s popularity in Kansas City will draw people to not only see the finished documentary, but assist with funding for the film, as well.

“Thankfully Sonia has a lot of fans already. People love her. They know the shop. They know Metcalf Mall. So this is a different animal," Warshawksi explained.

So far, the filmmakers have been spending their own money on production but are looking for investors, donors and local sponsors. Anyone can make a donation on the website,  

“Meanwhile, it’s critical we are here and we will be filming regardless because the time is not and it’s a critical time in Sonia’s life,” Soliday said. “It’s really a film for all generations and all religions. Universal. That’s the goal.”

A release date for "Big Sonia" has not yet been determined. In the meantime, "Finding Hillywood" will be screened at the Glenwood Arts Theater on June 26th at 7:30 p.m.

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