Guest Post about Irene Sendler…


I have once again been failing you. The baby is 5 weeks, Chanukah vacation and Israel’s crazy snowstorms are over, but with our chayal boded home from the army and my stepson here, I am feeling a little like “ima2nine” and trying to love the insanity.

I hope to have a post up next week about the baby’s name and then a post up about how things are different this time around. I don’t think anyone needs to read posts about how “I am not perfect” or “we all have our mommy days” or even the funny/stupid/messy things my kids got into today…. I think everyone already knows that. 

So while you wait for the baby to give me more than one second to myself for me to get my act together, please enjoy the following educational guest post about Irene Sendler. Being a Chanukah baby, we named him after a hero;  please enjoy Laurie Rappoport‘s piece about one of the heroes don’t often hear about:

Irena Sendler — Recognizing Unsung Heroes

 In recent years it’s become popular to encourage children to adopt projects that will allow them to impact on their own educational experience above and beyond traditional schoolwork. Such projects traditionally take the form of genealogical research or a study of a particular individual whose life can serve as an inspiration to the student as well as to his or her family and friends.

 One such assignment turned out to have implications above and beyond the lifetime of the project itself and has, to date, impacted on thousands of people worldwide.

 In 1999 a group of Uniontown Kansas students were presented with an assignment that directed them to research and report on a historical episode of interest. None of the girls were Jewish but they decided to examine the Holocaust. A chance remark about a Polish woman who had saved over 3000 lives launched the girls on a long-term project that would, in the end, result in a website, a book and an award-winning performance.

 Irena Sendler lived in Warsaw when the Nazis invaded in 1939. She joined the Zagota underground and, together with other Zagota members, devoted herself to helping Jews escape the Nazi dragnet.

 In 1940 the Nazis constructed the Warsaw ghetto and interned over 400,000 Jewish in the small area. As a social worker employed by the Warsaw municipality Sendler was able to obtain documents that enabled her to freely enter the ghetto and she ferried in food and medicines to help the desperate Jewish residents.

 Sendler quickly realized that the small amounts of food that she was able to bring in were not making a big enough impact on the situation and she decided to smuggle children out of the ghetto and find them hiding places where they could live out the war. With the help of other Zagota members Sendler sedated young children and smuggled them out in bags, toolboxes and even under garbage in garbage carts. She led older children out through tunnels and hidden passageways.

 When Sendler began her work she concentrated on bringing out street children and orphans but as time passed she began to work to convince parents to allow her to take their children out of the ghetto. These decisions were nightmarish for the parents who had to decide whether their children had a better chance of survival with them, in the ghetto, or with strangers on the other side of the ghetto walls.

 Sendler and her comrades from the underground located hiding places for the children who had been smuggled out of the ghetto — in convents, orphanages and with sympathetic Polish families. Sendler carefully recorded these names on pieces of tissue paper and placed them in glass jars which she buried in her neighbor’s yard. All together it is estimated that Sendler helped save over 2500 children.

 In October of 1943 Sendler was captured by the Gestapo and imprisoned. She was tortured but she didn’t reveal any information about the children’s whereabouts or about her Zagota friends. The Germans scheduled Sendler to be executed but Zagota members bribed a German guard and secured her release.

 Sendler was honored by Yad VaShem in 1965 but after she returned to Warsaw her story was forgotten. It was only when the schoolgirls in Kansas began to investigate the story that Sendler’s actions became widely recognized. The Irena Sendler project, Life in a Jar, led to the creation of the Lowell Milken Center that has propelled other students to research “unsung heroes.” It serves as an inspiration to parents and teachers who want to motivate young students to stretch themselves and take responsibility for their own meaningful educational experience.