life in a jar

"And the Nobel Peace Prize goes to the man in the tin foil hat, Mr. Al Gore." That's how Citizen Wells website introduced the story of Irena Sendler, a lady unknown to most of us, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on the same billing as Mr.

“And the Nobel Peace Prize goes to the man in the tin foil hat, Mr. Al Gore.”

That’s how Citizen Wells website introduced the story of Irena Sendler, a lady unknown to most of us, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on the same billing as Mr. Gore.

The Second World War exploits of Irena Sendler, born Irena Krzyzanowska in Otwock, Poland in 1910, remained a footnote in history for over sixty years, until Kansas teens Elizabeth Cambers, Megan Stewart and Sabrina Coons, “discovered” her during a school history project in 2001.

The story begins at Irena’s father’s deathbed. He told seven-year-old Irena, “If you see someone drowning you must try to rescue them, even if you cannot swim. People can only be divided into good or bad—their race, religion, nationality don’t matter.”

She lived his words!

She was a social worker when the Nazis invaded her homeland in 1939. Then she became Jolanta, a code name in Zegota, the Polish underground movement. She and her underground children’s welfare team saved 2,500 children from the horrendous crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis.

The three Kansas teens, later joined by a fourth, Jessica Shelton, produced a play called Life in a Jar telling Irena’s story. It was performed over 200 times in the US, Canada, and Poland.

Their title came from Sendler’s identity files. She listed the name, and new identity, of every rescued child on thin cigarette or tissue paper. She hid the lists in glass jars, buried under an apple tree in an underground friend’s backyard. She planned to reunite the children with their families after the war. Indeed, though most of their parents perished in the Warsaw Ghetto or in Treblinka, those children who had surviving relatives were returned to them after the war.

The Kansas teens were thrilled when they discovered she was still alive at 90 years old, and they went to meet her. Their words tell us here is a heroine worthy of humanities recognition, a woman who has shown them the way.

“The first time I met Irena, I was amazed by her wisdom and grace,” said Stewart. “Her courage and love can tear down any barrier. She has challenged us to continue her story and inspire others.”

“Life in a Jar made me realize Irena is a heroine for the entire world to believe in,” added Shelton. “She’s given me hope in a world of sorrow, and inspiration to make a difference. Seeing Irena and all the love she has for others is a life-altering experience.” Cambers will follow her ideals working with inner city students teaching them Irena’s example, that one person can change the world for the better.

“I was always extremely shy and quiet because with a military family we moved a lot and I was always the new kid; it all changed after I became part of the project,” said Coons.

When the teens began their project an internet search revealed only one website that mentioned Irena Sendler. Now there are over 300,000.

In an interview with ABC News in 2007, Irena Sendler voiced some of her frustration: “After the Second World War it seemed that humanity understood something, and that nothing like that would happen again. Humanity has understood nothing. Religious, tribal, national wars continue. The world continues to be in a sea of blood.

“The world can be better, if there’s love, tolerance and humility,” she added.

Ladies Home Journal writer, Marti Attoun introduced her article about Irena thus: “This is the amazing story of Irena Sendler of Poland who was one of Al Gore’s co-nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize. Sure, she didn’t properly capitalize monetarily from her deeds. She didn’t become a pop icon, but she did save 2,500 Jewish kids from Nazi extermination. Does that count? Nah, films about global warming, that’s what it’s all about.”

So, who would you have honoured?

This is but a glimpse into a remarkable life. I recommend her story to you—a mother who made a difference few can match.

Irena Sendler, mother, died a year ago, 12 May 2008. She was 98 years old.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Fines for contravening the fire ban start at $1,150 and could go as high as $100,000. File photo
Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. (Black Press file)
Yukon campgrounds to open early

Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. The early opening… Continue reading

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The aesthetics and economics of highway strips

One of the many cultural experiences you enjoy while driving from Whitehorse… Continue reading

Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone.
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone. (Submitted)
Yukon kids express gratitude for nature, pets and friends in art campaign

More than 50 children submitted artwork featuring things they are grateful for

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

A sign indicating a drop-off area behind Selkirk Elementary school in Whitehorse on Feb. 25. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Parking lot proposal for Selkirk Elementary criticized

Parents and school council are raising concerns about green space and traffic woes

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read