4/27/2014
14330 Travilah Road-Rockville, MD 20850
Life in a Jar will present a performance in Rockville, MD at Temple Beth Ami on this Sunday evening...
5/3/2014
St. Joseph Church at All Saints Parish-8th and Vermont-Kansas City, KS
There will be a Life in a Jar/Irena Sendler booth, Saturday, May 3rd, at Polski Days in Kansas City,...
5/16/2014
Jewett Hall Theater-campus of University of Maine Augusta - 46 University Dr.
Life in a Jar will perform in Augusta, Maine on this Friday evening. This will be our first performance...
5/17/2014
Falmouth High School-74 Woodville Rd.
Life in a Jar will perform in Portland, Maine on this Saturday evening. The sponsors consist of...
5/18/2014
Falmouth High School- 74 Woodville Rd.
Life in a Jar will perform in Portland, Maine on this Sunday afternoon. The sponsors consist of local...
9/21/2014
Waterville, KS
Life in a Jar will perform in the historic Waterville Opera House on this Sunday evening. This event...
10/16/2014
Brown Center Theater at Cowley County Community College - 125 S. 2nd, Arkansas City, Kansas
Life in a Jar will perform at Cowley County Community College on Thursday, October 16, 2014. The sponsors...
11/7/2014
TBA
Tentative East Coast performances of Life in a Jar.
CLICK HERE TO
VIEW ALL EVENTS

 

THE DISCOVERY

Students from rural Kansas discover a Polish Catholic woman who saved Jewish children. Few had heard of Irena Sendlerowa in 1999. Now after 328 presentations of Life in a Jar, a website with huge usage and world-wide media attention, a motion picture and award winning book "Life in a Jar/the Irena Sendler Project," Irena is known to the world. How did this beautiful story develop?  Read below for the answers.

In the fall of 1999, a rural Kansas teacher encouraged three students to work on a year-long National History Day project which would, among other things, extend the boundaries of the classroom to families in the community, contribute to history learning, teach respect and tolerance, and meet our classroom motto, “He who changes one person, changes the world entire.”

Two ninth graders, Megan Stewart, Elizabeth Cambers,and an eleventh grader, Sabrina Coons, accepted the challenge and decided to enter their project in the National History Day program (Eventually a number of other male and female students were added to the project). The teacher showed them a short clipping from a March 1994 issue of News and World Report, which said, "Irena Sendler saved many children and adults from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942." Her network saved from the Ghetto, plus providing hiding locations for over 2,000 children. The teacher, Mr. Conard, told the girls the article might be a typographical error, since he had not heard of this woman or story. The students began their research and looked for primary and secondary sources throughout the year.

 

IRENA'S LIFE (SEE MUCH MORE ABOUT IRENA ON THE SENDLER FAMILY PAGE AND THE ADDITIONAL INFORMATION PAGE, plus we have Irena facts at the bottom of this page)

They found that Irena Sendler, as a non-Jewish social worker, had gone into the Warsaw Ghetto with her network,and talked Jewish parents and grandparents out of their children, rightly saying that all were going to die in the Ghetto or in death camps, taking the children past the Nazi guards or using one of the many means of escape from the Ghetto-the old courthouse for example- and then adopting them into the homes of Polish families or hiding them in convents and orphanages. She and her network made lists of the children's real names and put the lists in jars, then buried the jars in a garden, so that someday she could dig up the jars and find the children to tell them of their real identity. The Nazis captured her and she was beaten severely, but the Polish underground bribed a guard at Pawiak Prison to release her, and she entered into hiding.

Irena had made false documents for people in the Warsaw area from 1939 to 1942, helping save so many children, adults, and families, BEFORE she joined the underground Zegota in December of 1942. In fact, Irena's life has been one of standing up for others. Her father was an inspiration for serving the world. Irena wants us to mention that ten others were under her guidance in saving children from the Ghetto, and a number of others were helping outside the Ghetto.

 

FROM KANSAS TO THE WORLD

 

The students wrote a performance (Life in a Jar) in which they portrayed the life of Irena Sendler. They have performed this program for numerous clubs and civic groups in the community, around the state of Kansas, all over North America and in Europe (328 presentations as of April 2014). Their small community had little diversity and no Jewish students in the school district. The community was inspired by the project and sponsored an Irena Sendler Day. The students began to search for the final resting place of Irena and discovered she was still alive and living in Warsaw, Poland.  Irena's story was unknown world-wide, even though she had received esteemed recognition from Yad Vashem in 1965 and support from the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous in New York City. Forty-five years of communism had buried her story, even in her own country.

From that time on they would take a jar to every performance and collect funds for Irena and other Polish rescuers. (They call their performance Life in a Jar.) The significance of this project really started to grow with many numerous contacts. These contacts assisted the students in sending the funds to Poland for the care of Irena and of other rescuers. They wrote Irena and she wrote dozens of deeply meaningful letters to them, with such comments as, "my emotion is being shadowed by the fact that my co-workers have all passed on, and these honors fall to me.  I can't find words to thank you, for my own country and the world to know of the bravery of rescuers. Before the day you had written Life in a Jar, the world did not know our story; your performance and work is continuing the effort I started over fifty years ago. You are my dearly beloved ones."

They discovered a Polish student who began to translate for them. They made a collection of the letters and have shared these documents with universities, historical societies, and the Chicago and New York City Jewish Foundations for the Righteous. Their cause for Irena Sendler became a national cause; they had rediscovered this courageous woman. The students appeared on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, CBS, CNN, the Today Show, in numerous newspaper articles, including the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and New York Times, and magazine articles, such as Ladies Home Journal and Guidepost.  They were invited to perform in Washington, D.C. and before a Jewish foundation in New York City. They have become knowledgeable on subjects such as the Holocaust, World War II, and the Polish Underground. At least twenty colleges and universities have been using their letters from Irena and their project information in their curriculum.

Great emotion pours out of the audience during their presentation. They have literally taken our class motto and brought it to life. They regularly write on their homework papers such notes as, "I'm changing the world" and "Irena's story must be told." Several of the students experienced great emotional situations in life, as had later members of the project. Megan's (Megan portrays Irena) mother was forty and was seriously ill with cancer; she passed away in June of 2006. Sabrina's mother also passed on during the years of the project.

The four original students continued to dream of visiting Warsaw, interviewing Irena, surviving children, and others connected to this story. In January of 2001, they performed before a large school district in a city about 100 miles from our school. A Jewish educator and businessman saw the performance and asked to have lunch with us that day. He told them he would raise the money and send them to Warsaw, if they would go that spring (Irena was 91 and in poor health) and bring back her story. The man raised the money in twenty-four hours.

On May 22, 2001, Mr. Conard traveled with four students, several parents (Bill and Phyllis Cambers, Debra Stewart and a local patron), plus his wife Karen, to Warsaw, Poland. They spent time with Irena Sendler and then extended the boundaries of the classroom to the world. The Polish organization for the Children of the Holocaust arranged a meeting between the rescuers and the children saved; this was the first such meeting in many years. They also met a famous Polish poet who was saved by Irena, and an author of a well-known memoir of the Holocaust who called the students rescuers of the rescuer; The Polish press made this story international news. Irena's story was finally reaching others.  The students were called "rescuer's, rescuers of Irena's story" by one of the children Irena saved.

The group met Elzbieta Ficowska and heard her beautiful story of being rescued by Irena at the age of 5 months, carried out in a carpenter's box. A great circle of Polish friends have aided the project in many ways.

In 2002, the founders of the project and new students traveled to Poland. They interviewed people connected to Irena and her story, plus visited with Irena on several occasions.  They also visited Treblinka and retraced Irena's steps in the Warsaw Ghetto. The story of Irena Sendler continues to expand, continues to inspire.

With this project the students (twelve are now working on the project-see the Sendler family page--including Travis Stewart, and Jaime Walker, who is now portraying Mrs. Rosner) are extending the classroom into the world community in many ways, such as publishing the interviews, performing before larger audiences, sharing letters of Irena with students and educators, (copies have been requested and sent to over 250 schools) and interviewing with local and national press. The students have been contacted by many across the country about a possible book or screenplay. This project has created ongoing interactive communication with families in our community and communities across the country. This web site can reach the students.  The original students are now in their mid-twenties and the the four original founders are married, two with children.  They continue to present Life in a Jar.  All of the present students are in college or have graduated.

Many parents and community members are involved in the project. A lady in the community has organized an Irena Sendler Day, and another has organized an Irena Sendler week. The students continue to perform in front of local churches, civic groups and clubs. Life in a Jar has been presented in a number of states and on two summer tours. In November of 2004 and February of 2007, the Milken Family Foundation sponsored Life in a Jar in a series of presentations in Los Angeles. Plus the MFF produced a DVD of the play-see the "Order DVD'" link at the top of the web site.  The DVD has been placed in over 1,000 schools in the U.S. and around the world. Also, a teacher's/classroom study guide has been produced to accompany the DVD.

The Jewish community in Kansas City has reached out in a powerful way to involve itself with the project. The community as a whole has adopted the project and this courageous woman as a part of the family.  We list the Jacobsons, Krigels and Isenbergs as families who have assisted in so many ways.  Howard and Ro Jacobson established a scholarship fund for Uniontown students who needed help with college.

The story of Irena Sendler is spreading and spreading.  Over 1,500 media outlets have presented articles about the Kansas kids and the Polish heroine.  As a child survivor, Renata Zajdman, a close friend of the project, says, "The young men and women of Kansas put Irena's story on the map."

In 2005, the group again traveled to Poland for presentations of Life in a Jar.  You may view the "news section" of this web site for information on that trip.  An international Irena Sendler Award was started in 2006.  Irena was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.  Schools have been named after her and a book in Polish and German has been printed.

In 2009 the Hallmark Hall of Fame produced The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler for CBS. The world premiere was held in Fort Scott, Kansas, with many of the students from the cast and project present. Also present was Renata Zajdman (saved by Irena's network at age 14), actors and directors of the movie, the Hall family from Hallmark, and many others who have supported the story.

 

EPILOGUE

Irena passed away on May 12, 2008. She was buried in a Warsaw, Poland cemetery. Her family and many of the rescued children continue to tell her story of courage and valor. The Life in a Jar students continue to share her legacy through the play, this web site, through schools and study guides, and world media.

This project has allowed these students to reach out and change the world.

a. Irena facts:  She was born in Warsaw on February 15, 1910. 

b. She passed away in Warsaw on May 12, 2008.  (Megan Stewart Felt has played Irena in the Life in a Jar play for the past six years; her birthday is May 12.)

c. She spent her young childhood in Otwock, Poland. 

d. Her father, Stanislaw Krzyzanowki, was a doctor and passed away with typhus when she was seven years old.

e. Irena and her  mother eventually returned to Warsaw.

f. She was an only child.

g. She attended Warsaw University.

h. Sendler is the surname of her first husband.

i. She married Stefan Zgrzebski after World War II; he passed away with heart disease in the early '60s.

j. Irena and Stefan had two children: their son Adam passed away with heart disease on

September 23, 1999, the SAME DAY THE LIFE IN A JAR PROJECT STARTED.

k. Irena was dismissed from Warsaw University for failing to comply with Jewish segregation laws. She was re-admitted one year later.

l. Irena started making false documents for Jewish friends when the war started in 1939.

m. Irena was an administrator at the Warsaw Social Work Department during the war.  She did pose as a nurse in the Ghetto from time to time (see the photograph on this site).

n. She had a network of helpers (twenty-five at one time) who rescued people (adults and children) from the Warsaw Ghetto, made false papers for them and found hiding. 

o. The majority of the rescue work of taking children out of the Warsaw Ghetto was done in the summer of 1942 in a three-month period.  The most famous of the child survivors, Elzbieta

Ficowska, was rescued at five months in a carpenters box.  Most of the rescues did not involve babies.

p. The first children they took off the streets were the orphans.

q. The network used dozens of ways to rescue children, including using a dog on a couple of occasions.  The most common route was through the old courthouse.

r. The underground group Zegota was founded in the fall of 1942; she became the head of the children's division and they would eventually find hiding for over 2,000 children. IMPORTANT: The number 2,000 must be understood.  This number represents the number taken out of the Ghetto and the number already in hiding (which Irena and her network would move from

place to place).

s. The hiding of Jews in Warsaw would take place in Polish homes, convents and orphanages.  Irena would insist to the Life in a Jar students, "always end your performance

by saying the real heroes of the story were the Jewish parents and grandparents."

t. Irena's network of rescuers was almost all social workers, consisting of 24 women and one man.

u. Irena was caught by the Gestapo and put in Pawiak Prison.  She was tortured and had a leg and foot fractured.

v. She had buried some of the names of the children in jars, along with the help of a friend, to reconnect the children to their Jewish families after the war.  The jars were buried under an apple tree, in the friend's back yard.  The flat of the friend was right across from the German barracks. The daughter of her friend, still lives at the residence.

w. Zegota bribed a guard to have Irena released in the night to a member of the Underground.  She was scheduled to be executed.

x. She remained in hiding throughout the rest of the war.

y. After World War II the connecting of children to families was very difficult because of the large number of Jewish adults killed at Treblinka and other death camps.

z.  The communists considered Irena a subversive after the war. 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON OUR WEB SITE ABOUT IRENA, GO TO THE ADDITIONAL INFO LINK. CLICK ON THE LINK Q&A AND FACTS ABOUT IRENA FOR MORE FACTS ABOUT IRENA'S LIFE STORY.

 

*Irena was not German as is being mentioned on so many incorrect web sites. As you can read above, she was Polish. FYI-our web site is based on hundreds of interviews with primary sources and a dozen interviews with Irena, plus over fifty letters from Irena and 4,000 pages of total research. Much gratitude is given to two of the children for information, Renata Zajdman and Elzbieta Ficowska. Be careful with some web sites and their incorrect information.

***Numerous internet websites have posted much incorrect information. Irena was not German, she didn't know the Nazis' plans, she was not a plumbing specialist (she was a social worker), most of the children saved were not babies, she used a tool box several times at most, the truck wasn't hers, her legs were fractured, her arms were not broken, the dog was only used a few times, her name was Irena not Iliana and there are several other mistakes. The Nobel Peace Prize is given for achievement during the past several years, Irena knew this and asked not to be nominated. The Nobel Committee encouraged her nomination to give her more recognition.  She was a big fan of Al Gore. 

 

© 2006 - Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project. All rights reserved.
No part of this website may be used without permission.