Life in a Jar: The Ire­na Sendler Project

Jack May­er
  • Review
By – September 1, 2011
Many are famil­iar with the sto­ry of Ire­na Sendler, the young Pol­ish woman who entered the War­saw Ghet­to and plead­ed with par­ents to give her their chil­dren for safe­keep­ing. She would give the babies or tod­dlers a few drops of a seda­tive and smug­gle them out in var­i­ous ways. Each child’s Jew­ish name and their new Pol­ish name, would be dropped into bot­tles and buried under a tree in a friend’s back­yard. Most of the res­cuers were part of Zego­ta, the Pol­ish Resis­tance, and their net­work of vol­un­teers, orphan­ages, and con­vents that helped Jews and shel­tered their chil­dren. What is less famil­iar is the sto­ry of the teens, who by dra­ma­tiz­ing Sendler’s sto­ry, brought it to the atten­tion of the world when pre­vi­ous­ly, it was lit­tle known beyond Yad Vashem, where Sendler had been named one of the Right­eous Gen­tiles.

A few non-Jew­ish teens, from a school dis­trict lack­ing any minori­ties, learned about Sendler and decid­ed to write and act out her sto­ry. This was the result of the genius of one teacher who allowed his stu­dents free­dom to research and present any top­ic in which they were inter­est­ed. In this case, a sin­gle para­graph hand­ed to a trou­bled stu­dent with a trag­ic fam­i­ly back­sto­ry, intrigued her and — for­mer­ly a lon­er — she acqui­esced to her teacher’s sug­ges­tion that she work on the project with two oth­er stu­dents. The three could not have been more dif­fer­ent, had to adjust to one anoth­er and were, in the course of the book, vast­ly changed by their expe­ri­ences and by the vagaries of fate. This book, then, is the sto­ry behind the sto­ry; it is both the sto­ry of Sendler’s life — before, dur­ing, and after the war — and the back sto­ries of the three teens who so effec­tive­ly under­took the ini­tial effort to dra­ma­tize Sendler’s sto­ry that the demand for its per­for­mance increased. It is also the sto­ry of how they and their drama­ti­za­tion made Ire­na Sendler’s hero­ism known to the world. Begin­ning to feel such admi­ra­tion and affec­tion for their hero­ine, they were com­pelled to find out if Sendler was still alive. She was, though elder­ly and weak. They even­tu­al­ly devel­oped a warm rela­tion­ship with her, vis­it­ed her sev­er­al times in Poland and made her a hero­ine all over again. Not only can the read­er learn about the War­saw Ghet­to and the touch­ing per­son­al sto­ry of Ire­na Sendler, but also the sto­ries of three dis­sim­i­lar teens, two of whom were very trou­bled, who became friends for life, and in a sense — res­cuers of the res­cuer.” Six­ty per­cent of the prof­it from the sale of the book is donat­ed to the Ire­na Sendler: Life in a Jar Foundation. 
Mar­cia W. Pos­ner, Ph.D., of the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al and Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau Coun­ty, is the library and pro­gram direc­tor. An author and play­wright her­self, she loves review­ing for JBW and read­ing all the oth­er reviews and arti­cles in this mar­velous periodical.

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