Sunday, March 24, 2013

Life in a Jar--Irena Sendler

With March being Woman’s History Month, the posts here have been about courageous, interesting women who assisted in taming the west. I hope no one will mind that my post is about a woman who lived in the next century. Her story is truly remarkable, as is the way it was brought to life again by a few young women.  

In 1999 a history teacher in Kansas shared an article from a 1994 issue of News and World Report about a woman who saved 2.500 children during WWII. Claiming he’d never heard of this woman or her story, the teacher said the article might be an error. Three students, two ninth grade and one eleventh grade girls (others including boys joined the project later on) began researching Irena Sendler and her story. 

What they found was truly amazing, and those students took their project a step farther, writing a performance (Life in a Jar) which portrays Irena’s journey.  Their presentations lead to a movie and award winning book that assisted in spreading the word of Irena Sendler/Sendlerowa’s heart-wrenching work.
(Public domain photo--first published in Poland)

Irena Sendler was born on February 15, 1910 in Warsaw, Poland. Her father, a doctor, died when she was seven having contracted typhus, (not to be confused with typhoid fever) from patients he treated when other physicians refused.  Irena was an only child and attended Warsaw University, where she was dismissed for refusing to comply with Jewish segregation laws. She was eventually readmitted and became a social worker.

During WWII Irena was permitted to work in the Warsaw ghetto as a plumbing/sewer specialist. There she talked families into giving her their children, explaining they may die in the ghetto or death camps. With the help of others in her network, she snuck the children past the Nazi guards and eventually found homes for them with families or in convents and orphanages. Irena recorded the children’s real names and family members on pieces of paper she buried in jars so someday she could dig them up and tell the children about their real families. 

Irena and her counterparts found hiding for 2,500 children. A few infants she carried out in her carpenter’s box, and she also used a truck with hiding areas in the back along with a dog trained to bark when Nazi soldiers approached. 

Eventually, she was captured and badly beaten, but ultimately a member of her underground network was able to bribe her release and she went into hiding. After the war, she and her colleagues gathered their records, but reuniting the children with their families was impossible for most considering the amount of deaths.

Before her death at the age of 98 in May 2008, Irena said her father was her inspiration for serving the world.  To learn more about the Life in a Jar project and Irena, visit:

posted by Lauri Robinson


  1. Lauri--oh, my goodness, this gave me chills. How exciting! What a story. I have heard of her, but really hadn't paid attention to the details. The buried jars gives it even more intrique and mystery.

    Thanks for this. It's like a little gift.

  2. It is an amazing story, isn't it? I am not suprised there were people who sacrificed for the welfare of others, especially the children. Recently I watched Schindlers List and what a story that turned out to be. I saw it years ago and didn't think I would ever watch it again. Now that I am older I saw it in a completely different light. Great post, Lauri.

  3. This is one of my favorite stories, Lauri. I can't imagine why she did not receive more acclaim during her lifetime. I'm glad you included her in our month celebrating strong and heroic women. She deserves all the attention we can give her. Thanks for your post.

  4. Lauri, You always dig up the best info! I had heard of her but not how she came to be written about.

  5. Reading about the jars gave me the chills, too, Celia.

    Truly amazing, Paisley.

    It sounds like she was recognized some, years ago, but she was humble and didn't want the acclaim.

    Thanks, Paty.

  6. What an heroic and astounding person Irene was. I liked the jar idea of meassages to reunite the families of the children. You would think we would know more about her.
    Great post, Lauri.


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