This Nobel Peace Prize nominee was largely unknown to the world until a group of teenagers in Kansas discovered her inspiring, heartbreaking life story.
Irena Sendler said, "There are two kinds of people: good and bad. Nationality, race, and religion do not play any role; what is important is which human you are."
A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Irena Sendler was largely unknown to the world until a group of teenagers in Kansas discovered her inspiring, heartbreaking life story. In fall 1999, four young girls from Kansas began research for a high school history project. The students were inspired by a magazine article about Sendler, and after discovering that she was alive, they exchanged letters with her and eventually traveled to Poland to meet with her. The play the students wrote as a result of their research and multiple interviews spawned worldwide interest in the epic story of one person who managed to save the lives of 2,500 children in Warsaw under German occupation.
Anna Mieszkowska’s book Matka dzieci Holokaustu. Historia Ireny Sendlerowej / Mother of the Children of the Holocaust. Irena Sendler's Story brings out the universally appealing story of Sendler. It contains moving accounts of courage and hope in the face of tremendous danger, cruelty and terrifying uncertainty. It also portrays the unspeakable emotional distress suffered by parents who chose to give their children up, and communicates the decades of immense longing, loneliness and guilt of the rescuees for having survived while their families did not.
Andrew Nagorski is former Warsaw bureau chief for Newsweek and the author of The Greatest Battle: Stalin, Hitler, and the Desperate Struggle for Moscow That Changed the Course of World War II. In his review of Mieszkowska's book, he states:
Irena Sendler wrote that tragic events can produce beautiful feelings. Such events can also produce beautiful actions like the breathtakingly brave rescue of 2500 Jewish children by Sendler and her network of helpers in occupied Poland. This book finally does justice to her extraordinary story, offering elegant testimony to the best in the human spirit.
As a worker of a social-aid centre, Sendler had a special permit to enter closed-off wards of the Warsaw ghetto. She collaborated with the Polish aid, which was controlled by German forces and she organised the smuggling of Jewish children, placing them in the homes of Polish families and at orphanages and convents run by Catholic nuns in Warsaw, Turkowice and Chotomów. The Rada Pomocy Żydom “Żegota” (Council for Helping Jews) was founded in 1942 and Sendler was appointed the head of the children’s section.
Arrested by the Gestapo in 1943, she underwent torture and was sentenced to death. Żegota managed to save her by bribing German guards. In hiding, Sendler continued to work and save Jewish children. After the war, she helped to found orphanages and centres for children and the elderly that lost families in the war. Irena Sendler was prosecuted by the Communist secret police. The Urząd Bezpieczeństwa (Security Agency) summoned her up for numerous and abusive hearings throughout her pregnancy. As a result, she went into labour prematurely and her baby died. Sendler passed away on the 12th of May 2008, at the age of 98.
Anna Mieszkowska is an archivist at the Polish Academy of Science in Warsaw, and holds a master's degree in theatre studies from the University of Warsaw. She is the author of six books, has contributed to journals and archives, and is a frequent guest on Polish public radio and literary and cultural television shows. Mieszkowska was a consultant to Mary Skinner's Sendler documentary, In the Name of Their Mothers, as well as on the 2009 television movie The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler.
In a talk with Mieszkowska for Culture. pl, Janusz R. Kowalczyk asked in which country her book was best received. Mieszkowska replied:
After the first edition of the book was released, someone who was wishing me well said ‘Don’t count on the appreciation of this book by Poles or Jews. It will be received well by Germans!’ ‘Why?’, I asked. [...] When Irena Sendler was asked if she holds a grudge against the German nation, she replied “I don’t have resentment. But I have memory”. This is a book about a difficult memory, but it does not have an accusing character. The first edition came out in Germany while Ms. Irena was still alive. And right after the release, we got the news that a school for disabled children in Hohenroth in Bavaria is asking for permission to be named after Irena Sendler. It was the teachers from this school, who, in 2007, planted an apple tree from Germany in a park by the Heroes of the Ghetto monument in Warsaw. More than a dozen Germans came to Warsaw to meet Ms. Irena. She was moved (...) the Germans, women as well as men, older people and youth all cried together ina room by Sapieżyńska Street.
Mieszkowska also commented that Sendler always wished that a film would be made - not about her, but about the children that she helped to save and their mothers.
For Ms. Irena those who deserve to be remembered are the women who gave their own children to strangers, in the hope that it was the only way they could be saved. She called them the real heros of the war period. And of the children, she said 'little heroes of their mother’s hearts'. She also always asked to underscore that she did not work alone. Many people helped her. Their fates should also be remembered. Each story is different and no two are the same. This could even be a sitcom series about the saving and the saved. Perhaps it will be made one day.
Editor: Paulina Schlosser, 24.10.2013. Source: amazon.com, press release, culture.pl