Irena Sendlerowa (1910 - 2008), Righteous Among the Nations, the head of the children’s section in Żegota [editor’s note: an underground Polish council to aid Jews during WW2], rescued 2,500 Jewish children during the German occupation. Sendlerowa saved these children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto and hiding them with Polish families and in orphanages and monasteries. Wolf’s documentary is a record of conversations between him and Sendlerowa, filmed in the last years of her life.
As the director said before a screening in Warsaw:
This film is a story about intellectuals. It’s about people who were faithful to their positivist ideals till the end. To them these weren’t empty words, but the most important things in life. The main message is that one has to fight with evil. Whatever name that evil assumes, whatever sort of an -ism it was.
Sendlerowa says in the film:
I am no hero. I just did what my heart told me to do. […] Others rescued people as well and this has to emphasized.
Andrzej Wolf is a camera operator (responsible for the cintematography of Polish Sibiriad by Janusz Zaorski, among other films), a director, a lecturer at Warsaw Film School (WFS). Here is how WFS describes the film:
Wolf conducted the interviews with Sendlerowa throughout the four last years of her life. They became friends. Thanks to this – as the creator himself admits – the eminent charity and social worker opened up in front of the camera for the last time. Wolf turned nine hours of recordings into a twenty-seven-minute documentary film, interwoven with silent improvised scenes. It’s a record of a shocking history of the life and death of Jews in the ghetto. It depicts the desperate attempts to save at least a part of these who – according to Hitler’s terror – were to die. Irena Sendler’s dream, expressed in the film, was to turn the memory of Holocaust into a warning for the world so that such atrocious events never take place again.
As Wolf emphasized after the realization of the film:
I made this film to make the next generations able to get to know the tragic, recent times. This story is a warning. I wanted to show the viewers what intolerance, lack of respect and anti-Semitism leads to, but I also want to depict righteous people, true heroes willing to risk their lives to help the persecuted. One has to help people, especially children. One has to oppose evil.
Irena Sendler was born in 1910. In the times of occupation she was engaged in the underground. She helped Jewish citizens before the Warsaw Ghetto was created. In 1942, when the Polish underground organization, Żegota – a council to aid Jews – was created, Sendlerowa became head of the children’s section.
As an employee of the Social Welfare Department in Warsaw, a body controlled by the Germans, Sendlerowa was granted a permit to enter the ghetto. Disguised as a nurse, she brought food, medicine and money, together with her co-workers. She organized the smuggling of Jewish children out of the ghetto – later on, Polish families and orphanages run by nuns would hide them. In this way she saved around 2,500 people. She wrote their encrypted names on strips of crêpe paper, and put them in jars which she later buried in the ground. After the war, the decrypted list was sent to Adolf Berman, the chairman of the Central Committee of Polish Jews.
In 1943 Sendlerowa was arrested by the Germans. She was sentenced to death. Żegota saved her by bribing the German watchmen. She had to go into hiding, but still worked rescuing Jewish children. During the Warsaw Uprising Sendlerowa worked as a nurse.
After the war, Sendlerowa pursued social work. In 1965 she was given the Righteous Among the National medal by the Yad Vashem Institute. In 2003 she received the Order of the White Eagle. Sendlerowa died on 12th May 2008.
The documentary film The Story of Irena Sendler was presented in January 2016 in the headquarters of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
Source: PAP, author: MŚ, May 2016, translator: NS