Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Irena Sendler Project

The Lowell Milken Center's (LMC) Unsung Heroes project is continuing its decade-long program of encouraging young learners to create, develop, research and submit projects that honor unsung heroes. The program offers an annual prize to students who create quality award-winning material about a historical personality who made a positive impact on the world.
The first LCM Unsung Heroes project was created in 1999 by a group of Kansas City school girls who had heard vague rumors about a Polish woman who had saved over 2500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII. The girls' work brought the activities of Irena Sendler* and her Zagota (underground) comrades out into the open, ensuring that her heroic actions would become part of the historical record. Due to the research project and the resulting Lowell Milken Center Award the story of Irena Sendler has reached thousands of people through a performance that tells of the events as well as a subsequent book and website.
See here and here for previous postings about Irena Sendler.

Irena Sendler was a young Polish social worker when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. She joined the Zagota, an underground unit that was specifically devoted to helping Jews escape from the German dragnet, and between 1939 and 1941 she and her comrades helped to forge documents and find safe hiding places for hundreds of fleeing Jews.
In 1941, when the Warsaw Ghetto was established Sendler obtained documents that would allow her to enter the ghetto with food and medicines. She quickly ascertained that the Germans' ultimate intention would involve destroying the ghetto and murdering all of the Jews and she determined to save, in whatever time remained, as many lives as possible.
Sendler felt that it was easiest to smuggle children out of the ghetto and she began to do so, bringing them out by hiding them in toolboxes, bags, luggage and even under garbage carts or under piles of rags with barking dogs on top. She identified a network of hidden tunnels and sewers which she used to smuggle many of the children out. "I talked the mothers out of their children" Sendler later said, describing the heartwrenching scenes that she had to endure, day after day, as she separated the parents from their children.
Once on the "safe" side of the wall Sendler and other Zagota members placed the children in convents, orphanages and with families for safekeeping. She kept careful track of the children's names and their placements and extracted promises from the children's guardians that they would allow the children to return to their families and Jewish community after the war. Sendler placed these lists in glass jars which she buried in her neighbor's garden.
In October 1943 the Gestapo arrested Sendler. She endured horrendous torture but she never revealed the identities of her comrades or the locations of any of "her" children. She was freed by a bribed German guard as she was being led to her execution.
Sendler's actions are now being publicized by LMC as the "Life in a Jar" project. LMC was started by Lowell Milken a Jewish businessman from the early childhood education industry and promotes the stories of unknown heroes including a number of Holocaust heroes.
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