More than 80 participants attended the “Life in a Jar” community gathering sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s Northwest Division on Tuesday, Oct. 24, hosted by Splendido. “Life in a Jar” is the story of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker who rescued over 2,500 children from the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation. She hid them at gentile homes, orphanages, convents, and monasteries under new Polish names. Though most families perished at Treblinka, Sendler’s children had the unique distinction of learning their birth and parents’ names and addresses after the war, because she had painstakingly documented their origins on small strips of paper contained in jars buried under an apple tree.
Sendler’s heroic story was all but unknown before 1999, when three high school students from rural Uniontown, Kansas — a town without any Jewish residents — embarked on a research quest for a National History Day project to uncover the facts about her life. They created a performance, “Life in a Jar,” depicting her struggle to convince Jewish parents to give her their children.
In 2000, the students discovered that Sendler was still alive and living in poverty in Warsaw. They began communicating with her and continued to perform “Life in a Jar” throughout Kansas and across the United States. In 2001, these three students traveled to Warsaw to meet Sendler, presenting her with a heart signed by all the students of Uniontown High. The students viewed the room where she had been imprisoned and interrogated, and visited with some of the children she had rescued. They performed “Life in a Jar” at the Warsaw Memorial site and visited Auschwitz. Four more student groups from Uniontown visited Sendler in Poland from 2002 through 2008, the year of her death, as the story gained acclaim in national and international press. Sendler was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2007.
Today, “Life in a Jar” has been presented in over 375 performances across the United States, Canada and Europe. Her story is available as a book and DVD, and in a museum installation in Fort Scott, Kansas. The entire project is catalogued at irenasendler.org. In Poland, 2018 has been named the “Year of Irena Sendler.” As one of Sendler’s child survivors explained, “these students are the rescuers of Irena’s story for the world.” To borrow the “Life in a Jar” book or DVD, contact Phyllis Gold, director of the JFSA Northwest Division, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leslie Glaze is a member of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona board of directors.