Awards from unsung war hero keep importance of Holocaust education in

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Irena Sendler is one of the unsung heroes of World War Two. Now 98, she saved two and a half thousand Jewish children from the Holocaust in Nazi occupied Poland. Today, 65 years later, she is still active and her message has lost nothing of its relevance. Michal Kubicki from Polish Radio’s External Service reports on the Irena Sendler awards for Holocaust education.

Irena Sendler
Irena Sendler kept the only record of the identities of the Jewish children saved from the Ghetto in jars which she buried in the ground. She hoped that after the end of the war she would be able to recover her notes. That’s what she did – she dug up the jars and tracked down the children she placed with adoptive families in order to reunite them with their relatives. Several years ago, Norman Conard, a teacher from Kansas, the United States, came up with the idea of producing a documentary play about Irena Sendler. ‘Life in a Jar’ has since attracted a huge audience, in the US and other countries.

‘Life in a Jar’ was presented last week in Toronto for the 248th time and they continue to present the play in North America and in Europe, including Poland several years ago. Irena Sendler has a beautiful life of 98 years and continues to have a huge impact. I admire her willingness to be representative of something so good of the righteous gentiles. She has survived 98 years and she has survived for a reason and that reason is that that message can continue and it does continue with students like the ones in these classes if the two teachers who were recognized today and students like the ones in ‘Life in a Jar’

Jessica Ripperr: “It’s been our goal that the message of Irena Sendler, her story, will continue to live on and that people all over the world will understand diversity and tolerance; it’s a beautiful thing that no matter who you are, what your race, religion or creed, good always triumphs over evil”

Jaime Walke: “One person can make a difference, one person can change the world, all it takes is the goal inside overcoming evil.”

Megan Felt: “The importance of this story is so tremendous that it can touch anyone. It crosses so many barriers and it can reach so many different people that it’s so wonderful to realize that educators are being awarded for the great work that they do and will inspire those who continue the work.”

Norman Conard brought his students to Warsaw to attend the ceremony of presenting the Irena Sendler Awards that are given to Polish and American teachers for whom teaching about the Holocaust and Irena Sendler’s message became a mission in life. He was the first recipient of the award for ‘Repairing the World’. This year it went to Andrew Beiter, social studies teacher at Springville Middle School. For him, the message of Irena Sendler is significant today in the context of the events in Darfur.

“The message of Irena Sendler is a very aggressive one in that we need to act in the world today, that this moment someone in the world needs our help and to me that moment is in Darfur right now with the refugees who are there and the genocide. Who are Irena Sendlers today? They are all of us and that goes for simple injustices that we see in our schools to widespread things. The thing that is so exciting to me is that due to the Internet and digital technology the world is like never before and that gives an incredible amount of power to our students. The genocide in Darfur right now was in some way halted for a little while due to the actions of school kids around the world and that’s a first for the good guys. That is something that gives me hope.”

The Polish recipient of the award is Anna Kloza, a high school teacher from Bialystok, north-eastern Poland.

“I teach in my school especially about the Holocaust and the Shoah. Now there are about twenty Jews living in Bialystok. I think about my minorities in my city, Byelorussians, Lithuanians and Jews of course and so Irena Sendler’s prize is very important for me because Irena Sendler is a very important for Polish teachers. We would like to teach about her life and her choices.”

Six other teachers from several Polish towns were nominated for the award. According to Rabbi Eli Herscher from Los Angeles they are all like a second generation of the Righteous Among the Nations. “They are, each of them in their own ways, repairing the world, making sure that the children will grow up with a message of what it means to be a decent human being in this world. When so much of this world is filled with darkness, they are bringing great light.”

During the recent celebrations to mark the 65th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Polish and Israeli presidents were scheduled to meet Irena Sendler. It so happened that the day before they were due to visit her she was taken to hospital. Now she is back in the nursing home where she moved several years ago. She is very weak but her mind continues to be bright and alert.