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The Warsaw Voice » Culture » April 29, 2009
The world of movies
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Sendler on CBS
April 29, 2009 By W.Ż.    
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American television station CBS April 19 aired The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, a movie telling the story of a Polish woman who saved some 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland in World War II.

Directed by John Harrison and based on the book The Mother of the Holocaust Children by Anna Mieszkowska, the film was aired on the 66th anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

The title role of Irena Sendler is played by Anna Paquin, the child Academy Award winner from 1993 for The Piano. The film also stars several Polish actors, including Danuta Stenka, Maja Ostaszewska, and Jerzy Nowak. The score was composed by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, a Polish composer working in the United States and an Academy Award winner for the score to Finding Neverland. The cinematography is by Jerzy Zieliński.

Prior to the TV release, the movie had been shown in a theater in Fort Scott, Kansas, in a showing attended by Renata Zajdman, one of the children Sendler had smuggled to safety during the Nazi occupation of Poland. The location was chosen on purpose as Kansas was where in 1999 American teacher Norman Conard had inspired a school play about Sendler, entitled Life in a Jar. The title was a reference to how Sendler had preserved the personal data of the children. She put the names of the children’s parents and the new, false identities in jars she buried in a garden. Those notes were the only way children who survived the war could find out about their real families. The play was staged over 200 times in the United States and Poland.

Sendler and those helping her worked with Żegota, an organization that rescued Jews and was a division of the Polish Home Army, the largest underground organization of armed resistance in Europe in 1939-45. In December 1942, Żegota appointed Sendler head of its children’s department. As a social welfare center worker, Sendler held a pass to the ghetto. Working with a Polish aid organization controlled by the Germans, Sendler started smuggling Jewish children out of the ghetto. She placed them in adopted families, orphanages and with Catholic nuns. Arrested by the Gestapo in 1943, Sendler was tortured and subsequently sentenced to death, but Żegota managed to save her by bribing German guards.

In 1965, Sendler received the Righteous Among the Nations medal from the Yad Vashem institute in Jerusalem, Israel. In 1983, she planted a tree in the institute’s Garden of the Righteous. In 2003, she received the Order of the White Eagle, the highest civilian decoration in Poland, from President Aleksander Kwa¶niewski. She also received the Order of the Smile April 11, 2007, as the oldest recipient of the award. That same year, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She died May 12, 2008, at the age of 98.
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