Heroine’s Story to Be Premiered on May 1st.


By Raymond Rolak

Director Experienced Story through Matka


Sendler The presentation docu-drama IRENA SENDLER In the Name of Their Mothers” has already received the prestigious United Kingdom Film Award and now the national premiere in America will be on May 1, in honor of National Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Respective PBS stations nationwide will broadcast, “IRENA SENDLER In the Name of Their Mothers” a documentary film about Polish heroine Irena Sendler.  It was her wartime sorority of women who outwitted the Nazis and saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children. 

At the time, Sendler was a 29-year-old social worker when the Nazis invaded Poland.  After Warsaw’s Jews were imprisoned behind the ghetto walls without food or medicine, Sendler and those she most trusted smuggled aid in.  They then began smuggling orphans out, hiding them in convents, orphanages and private homes, both in the city and in the Polish countryside.  Before the Nazis burned the ghetto to the ground, they managed to rescue over 2,500 children.

Over the next two years this group of women organized by Sendler would care for the children.  They would disguise their identities and move the children constantly lest they be discovered and killed by the Nazis.  In Poland death was the immediate dictate if one was discovered aiding a Jew.  Many joined with the underground to get assistance to feed and protect their charges.  It was hoped that after the war, the children could be re-united with their Jewish families.  Sendler continued her effort even after the Warsaw Ghetto was destroyed, ultimately saving around 3,000 Jews altogether.  She was especially careful about recording the original and adopted names and other details that would allow for the reunion of the children with their parents after the war.

 Another heroine was Zofia Kossak, who founded the Underground Council to Aid the Jews in Poland.   From the beginning they were working to outfox the Nazis on behalf of the children and infirm.  Soon after that they would begin to focus all their efforts on saving Jewish children, those precious jewels of Poland.

“Very quickly we realized that the only way to save the children was to get them out,” Sendler recalled.

Sendler highly praised two of her co-workers, Magda Rusinek and Jadwiga Piotrowska.  Several of the hidden children also acted with great patriotism working as look-outs and watching over the younger ones.  “I’m sure I have many faults,” Sendler had said with her characteristic twinkle.  Skinner added, “She could at least boast about that she was a great organizer.”

This author can personally attest to the courage of such great heroines, as I lost cousins to the Nazis, Christine Kuras, Karol Kuras, Zofia Kuras and Joanna Kuras.  Christine hid and fed two Jewish survivors in the forest until being outed by a local drunkard.  The Nazis summarily executed her and her family for her charitable efforts.  The State of Israel named them into the family of Righteous Among the Nations in 1993, an acknowledgement of those who saved Jews during the holocaust.  They were related to Jozef Kuras, the Ogrien Partisan leader in the Zakopane Region.  Jozef Kuras had direct contact with the Polish Diplomat Jan Karski during his perilous travails.  (See Side-Bar Story) 

Sendler was eventually captured by the Gestapo, imprisoned and tortured after refusing to divulge the identities of her co-workers.  On the way to her execution, she escaped thanks to friends who managed to bribe a guard at the last moment.  Irena and her supporters were silenced by the Communists who came to power after the Nazis.  It was verboten to speak about the activities of partisans and most were afraid to talk about their actions for many decades afterwards.

Another lost to history anecdote is the formation of the Jewish Military Union (Zydowska Organization Bojowa) which organized resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto.  The World Jewish Congress did smuggle aid and money to this group for weapons and food for refugee children.  Another cell was the Jewish Fighting Organization (Zydowska Zwiazek Wojskowy).  Karski documented the heroic activities of these patriots, especially the activities of a lawyer and labor leader, Leon Feiner.  Feiner returned to Warsaw from a Russian prison and helped the underground and Sendlers’ Mothers of Mercy.    

Now their story is being told.  “IRENA SENDLER In the Name of Their Mothers” features the last in-depth interview with Sendler before her death at the age of 98.  Rare archival footage, family photographs and re-creations shot in Warsaw bring the lives of the hidden Jewish children front and center.  The film is testament to the power of moral courage in the darkest of times.

“This documentary is a stirring tribute to the courage and ingenuity of a group of women who saved lives at the risk of losing their own,” said John Boland, KQED President.   “We thought there was no better time to premiere this unknown story than on National Holocaust Remembrance Day.  KQED is honored as host station to present “IRENA SENDLER In the Name of Their Mothers” to our national PBS audience.

Director Mary Skinner is the daughter of a survivor and she had the motivation to tell this award winning story.  She lived this narrative with her mother, Klotylda Joswiak.    “My mother never forgot the extra ordinary women like Irena Sendler that smuggled food that saved them,” Skinner said softly.  My mother was caught and sent to a concentration camp – a sub-camp of Buchenwald.   She never saw anyone else in her family again.”

One of the most powerful parts of the film is how the angels had to appeal to the Jewish mothers to release their children in order to save them.  Only a mother could understand this wisdom, pain and humanism.  “I just had to tell the story of these courageous women,” added Skinner.

Sendler and her associates began smuggling Jewish babies and adolescents from the ghetto with their parents’ blessing. The women educated the children to non-Jewish ways and Christian church practices so they could pass Nazi interrogation.

In 1965 Yad Vashem also recognized Sendler as Righteous Among the Nations. Characteristically, she deflects the credit in her interviews during, “IRENA SENDLER In the Name of Their Mothers.”

“I could not have achieved anything were it not for that group of women I trusted who were with me in the ghetto every day and who transformed their homes into care centers for the children,” she declared to Skinner. “These were exceptionally brave and noble people.”

Co-Director and Photo Editor for the project was Slawomir Grunberg.  He is an Emmy Award-winning and Polish-born documentary producer.  He graduated from the prestigious Polish Film School in Lodz.

This hour long docu-drama can be a compelling incentive for education and the enrichment of Judeo-Christian relations.  “Save one life and you save a generation,” is the watchword and may we never forget.  Also on May 1, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem an exhibition remembering the Holocaust will be opened.

More at www.yadvashem.org

Lead underwriters of this PBS national broadcast include Taube Philanthropies and the Koret Foundation, The Polish & Slavic Federal Credit Union, The Williams Family Trust, the Foundation for Polish German Collaboration, the Polish-American artist, Rafal Olbinski, the Legion of Young Polish Women, and a host of other Polonia individuals and entities.

In Canada many communities get PBS on WTVS-TV Channel 56 from Detroit.

PBS Family of Stations

On May 1, 2011 at 10:00 pm EST.

Or May 2, 2011 at 10:00 pm EST.

Editors Note:  Raymond Rolak is a well traveled historian and sports broadcaster.