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Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler, the “Female Schindler,” Portrayed in CBS Movie

February 13, 2009 02:40 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
An upcoming TV movie details the heroic life of Irena Sendler, credited with saving the lives of thousands of Jewish children during World War II.

Movie About Irena Sendler To Appear on CBS

CBS will air a TV movie on April 19 about the story of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker responsible for saving 2,500 Jewish children during the Holocaust. Sendler died on May 12, 2008, at the age of 98. The movie, “The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler” is based on Anna Mieszkowska’s 2005 biography, “Mother of the Children of the Holocaust: The Irena Sendler Story.”

Anna Paquin recently agreed to play the starring role, according to United Press International. The Canadian-born actress won an Oscar for her performance in “The Piano” as a child and she currently costars on the HBO series “True Blood,” which has earned her a Golden Globe.

Marcia Gay Harden, Nathaniel Parker and Goran Visnjic will also be starring in the movie.

Biography: Irena Sendler

During World War II, Irena Sendler worked for a unit of the Polish underground, Zegota, which was formed to help Jewish children in hiding. As a health worker, Sendler had access to the Warsaw Ghetto. In 1942 and 1943, she led some 2,500 children—twice as many as Oskar Schindler—out of the ghetto to safe hiding places, the Jewish Virtual Library explains.

Dubbed the “Female Schindler,” Sendler saved babies and children while wearing a Star of David armband to show solidarity with her Jewish protectorates, wrote the Daily Telegraph in its obituary of Sendler. She was technically a welfare worker, distributing medicine and supplies in the Warsaw Ghetto, but she simultaneously “formulated extraordinary schemes to spirit children to safety,” according to the Daily Telegraph.
Sendler came from a Catholic family, and her father, an early Polish Socialist, was a doctor who attended to mostly poor Jewish patients. When Sendler began her work for Zegota, she relied on religious establishments to traffic and protect the children, forging thousands of documents for children who “entered the church as Jews and exited as Christians,” according to The Holocaust: Crimes, Heroes and Villains Web site.

The New York Sun commemorated Sendler with an article describing her achievements and goals during the Holocaust, particularly her desire to keep every child’s real name in the hopes she could restore their identities to them after the war. “Mrs. Sendler stashed the identities of the children she saved in jars and buried the jars under an apple tree. Her plan was to dig up the jars after the war and reunite the children with their families,” according to the Sun.

In October 1943, Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo after a colleague gave away her name while being tortured. Sendler herself was then imprisoned and tortured, but refused to give away any names, either of colleagues or of children in hiding. Sentenced to death, Sendler was saved at the last minute when an associate bribed a German officer, allowing her to escape prison.

Honored for her work years after the war and no longer anonymous, Sendler received calls over the years from many of the children she had helped protect. In 2007 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (the award went to Al Gore). Though many knew of Sendler’s work, a play written by four high school girls in Kansas in 1999, “Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project,” is largely responsible for sharing Sendler’s story with a larger audience and helping nominate her for the Nobel Peace Prize,” according to the Web site Life in Jar: The Irena Sendler Project.

Just a year before her death, Sendler was honored as a national heroine by Polish parliament, around the same time as her Nobel Peace Prize nomination. She was also honored with the title “righteous gentile” by the Israeli Holocaust Memoriam Centre, Yad Vashem, according to the Telegraph.

Related Topic: Story of another WWII hero performed on Broadway

The tale of another hero during the Holocaust, though less widely known, is coming to Broadway soon. “Irena’s Vow,” about Irena Gut Opdyke (Feldshuh), is set to premier March 29 at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

Born into a Catholic family, Feldshuh was “beaten, raped, and forced to work in a Russian medical unit” during the German and Russian occupation of Poland. She escaped, but was caught by Germans and made to work several jobs. As a housekeeper, she helped hide 12 Jewish members of her laundry staff when she learned that they were going to be transported to a concentration camp.

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