Life in A Jar
Protestant kids from rural Kansas, discover a Polish Catholic woman, who saved Jewish children. Irena Sendler and students from Uniontown, Kansas, they both have chosen to repair the world (Tikkun Olam).
Thank you for visiting irenasendler.org, the website honoring Irena Sendler, the project, 'Life in a Jar,' and diversity projects from Uniontown High School in Kansas. Read on and use the many pull-downs to learn more about the powerful story of Irena Sendler, Holocaust heroine, who saved 2,500 children in the Warsaw Ghetto and the Kansas students who re-discovered her. The courageous and beautiful story of Irena Sendler is told below.
Students from rural Kansas, discover a Catholic woman, who saved Jewish children. Few had heard of Irena Sendlerowa in 1999, now after 170 presentations of Life in a Jar, a web site with huge usage and world-wide media attention, Irena is known to the world. How did this beautiful story develop? Read below for the answers.
In the fall of 1999, Mr. Conard encouraged four 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."
Three ninth grade girls, Megan Stewart, Elizabeth Cambers, and Jessica Shelton, and an eleventh grade girl, Sabrina Coons, accepted the challenge and decided to enter their project in the National History Day program. Mr. Conard showed them a short clipping from a March 1994 issue of News and World Report, which said, 'Irena Sendler saved 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942-43'. He 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.
They found that Irena Sendler, as a non-Jewish social worker, had gone into the Warsaw Ghetto, 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 (in body bags, saying they were ill, 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 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 identify.
The Nazi's captured her and she was beaten severely, but the Polish underground bribed a guard to release her, and she entered into hiding. 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 the U.S. and in Europe (170 presentations as of June 2005). The community of Uniontown has 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.
From that time on they would take a jar to every performance and collect fund 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 girls in sending the funds to Poland for the care of Irena and of other rescuers. The girls wrote Irena and she wrote and continues to write deeply meaningful letters to them, with such comments as, "your performance and work is continuing the effort I started over fifty years ago, you are my dearly beloved girls."
They discovered a Polish student, Anna Karasinska, at a local college and she 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 girls appeared on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, CBS, CNN and in numerous newspaper articles, and magazine articles, such Ladies Home Journal. 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 five colleges 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". The three girls had all experienced great emotional situations in life, as had later members of the project. Megan's (Megan's role is that of a Mrs. Rosner, who surrenders her children) mother was forty and was seriously ill with cancer now in remission. Sabrina was a great choice, even though she didn't know it at the time. Sabrina discovered during the research that her great-grandmother was Jewish and had been in a death camp, but survived.
The four students continued to dream of visiting Warsaw, interviewing Irena, surviving children, and others connected to this story. In January of 2001 they performed (and added a fourth member) 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 the girls 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 Bonnie George), 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 with Mr. Conard. They interviewed 24 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. Irena had made false documents for people in the Warsaw area from 1939 to 1942, helping save many, BEFORE she joined the underground Zegota and started saving children. 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.
With this project the students (sixteen are now working on the project-see the Sendler family page--including Travis Stewart, and Maegan Whitehead, 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 interviews 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 also reach Mr. Conard and the students.
Many parents 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, the Milken Family Foundation sponsored Life in a Jar in a series of presentations in Los Angeles.
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. Howard and Ro Jacobson have helped establish a scholarship fund for the students. Gayle and Bruce Krigel and John and Jenny Isenberg have also played large roles in the project.
The story of Irena Sendler is spreading and spreading. U.S. News and Ladies Home Journal have come out with stories. The LHJ story was an eight page feature in the December 2003 issue, which told Irena's story and the story of the students. Television stations and newspapers continue to present numerous articles about the Kansas kids and the Polish heroine.
The Life in a Jar students went for a 3rd trip to Poland in June of 2005. You can read the story of their trip under 'events and news' on this web site. They found Polish students in over 60 schools who were preparing projects like Life in a Jar. They also presented to standing room only audiences, child survivors, and spent much time with Irena.
Irena celebrated her 95th birthday in February of 2005, she is still in good health and continues to inspire many. Her family and many of her saved children continue to tell her story of courage and valor.
In Care of the Rescuers
The students take a jar, 'Life in a Jar', to each presentation. The money collected in the jar is sent for the care of 'rescuers' in Poland, those like Irena who saved Jewish people. Many have little financial means and if you would like to help the students care for these courageous people who saved Jews during the Holocaust, please send a check to the address below. (donations are tax deductible)
Our dream is to develop a program to help teachers and students across America in the production and presentation of projects like ours. These projects would use the creative arts of drama, film documentaries and exhibits. These projects would be in the spirit and character of the Irena Sendler Project and would be designed to 'change the world.'
"Without the generosity of my blood Brother-In-Christ Mike this site would not be possible." Best, George