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review 2016-10-01 15:17
This is history, through a glass darkly.
Irena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto - Tilar Mazzeo

Thanks to Net Galley and to Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books for offering me a free ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I had not heard the story of Irena Sendler before I read this volume, and it is one of the great untold stories of War World II, unfortunately not the only one. In the last chapter of the book (before the copious acknowledgements and notes) the author speculates about the possible reasons for that neglect, including how tough life was for those who had supported the Polish Resistance in the years after the war, under Soviet control, and also personal difficulties and even change in religious feelings. By the time Irena Sendler wrote her memoirs she was in her nineties and it must have been impossible to recall all the details of what had happened at such a cruel time, fraught with risk and physical and mental hardship. I could not help but wonder if the fact that she was a woman also had a bearing on it. Heroism is expected in men, for whom it is OK to put duty or fighting for one’s ideals before family and heart matters, but when it comes to women, the general discourse looks at them in a suspicious manner if they put ethics, politics or ideals before their role as homemakers and their families. Sendler also always said that the task of saving the children was a team effort and insisted on giving credit where credit was due, and collective events always make for a story less easy to sell and less straightforward to tell. I learned a lot, not only about Irena Sendler and her collaborators, but also about what Poland went through in the war, the resistance movement in Warsaw and Poland, and the strength of individuals set on helping others, no matter how big the odds against them. Although there were betrayals and terrible things (not only on the German camp) taking place, there are also incredible feats of bravery and generosity. It is easier to fully comprehend what certain events might have meant for the population when one has a human being (be it an invented character in historical fiction or a real person in non-fictional accounts) to follow and empathise with. In this book, we follow not only Sendler but also the experiences and fates of many of her friends and collaborators, and also of some of the children who were rescued by the whole team. The book is detailed and follows a chronological order (apart from a short Prologue set at a particular dramatic moment for the protagonist), building up from the early times before the German occupation, providing us enough information about Irena to understand where her ideas came from, and showing clearly how quickly things deteriorated, at first for Jews only, but eventually for everybody. It is not an easy book to read, not because of the writing, but because of the content. Some of the images the book creates: of the effects of the epidemic illnesses, of the contrasts inside the ghetto between the glamorous cabarets where champagne flew a few streets from where others were dying, mothers throwing their children over the wall to try to save them or the Jewish family who sent a gold crucifix and a baptism gown for their baby when they were informed he’d have to be converted to Catholicism to save him, I will not forget. There were blackmailers, and unknown kind strangers, people who would not join in the cause but helped given a chance. This is not a story of battles and big armies (although they are there too, in the background), but of individual and small guerrilla resistance, of the everyday battle and of the people who would help, because of their beliefs and ethics or for money. Perhaps the best-laid plans fail because they never take into account the individuality of the cog in the machine and how they can subvert everything, both for good and for bad. I recommend this book to anybody interested in this historical period but perhaps not as familiar with the history of what happened in Poland as with events in other places. It is also a great read for anybody interested in inspiring stories of human endurance, resistance, bravery and fighting against all odds. Although the book is not a memoir of Irena Sendler’s life, and only makes a passing reference to what happened to her after the war, it centres on her and her role in saving the lives of over 2500 Jewish Polish children. Sendler is not presented as a heroine with no weaknesses and the book tries to show her doubts and internal struggles when trying to decide what to do, worrying about her mother and her lover, Adam, but sometimes putting herself and others at untold risks without thinking about it. It tries to remain close to the documentation, data and witness accounts, although I recommend reading the author’s note before reading the book itself, as that explains the process of creation of the book and how the different materials are incorporated into the final narration, including the use of italics to indicate material the author has written and added to make up the missing parts. In one of the reviews I saw they mentioned pictures, but I got an ARC e-copy with no photographs on it, so I can’t comment on them. There are very extensive notes of the sources at the end that will be useful to people wanting to explore further the materials and a cast of characters that will be useful to keep track of the many characters (especially as some of them had to change identities and names). I also noticed that there is a version for Young Adults that is worth exploring. In sum, an important work to bring attention to a figure and a movement that deserves to be better known and remembered. A must read.

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text 2013-10-12 19:32
Irena Sendler and Getting the Rest of the Story - and then a Reblog
Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project - Jack Mayer

Hey there - Batgrl here for this first bit, before the *** marks.

 

I just have to share another part of the Sendler story. In 1999 three high school girls from Kansas wrote a play about Sendler. (Also read their FAQ.) Their teacher and the community didn't stop there with the project - read the rest at that link. A lot of the US realization of who Sendler was and what she did resulted from that play, which was performed in many places, and resulted in a book and (in a roundabout way) a Hallmark Hall of Fame film. There's also a list of Sendler facts at the end of that page - because you know how the internet can get the story confused. (I've seen some inaccurate facts about Sendler's story passed around via tumblr images.)

 

I'm more apt to believe that page simply because the people involved in the project traveled to Poland and interviewed various sources (people directly involved) to obtain updated information (and the website documents a lot of it - multiple pages, photos, etc.). But it's also clear that those involved are really passionate about telling Sendler's story. Example from info at the end (in which you can guess what the bad info was being tumblr-ized - some of the following corrects the jpg that follows):

 

"***Numerous internet websites have posted much incorrect information. Irena was not German, She didn't know the Nazis' plans, She was not a plumbing specialist (she was a social worker), Most of the children saved were not babies, She used a tool box several times at most,The truck wasn't hers, Her legs were fractured-not broken, Her arms were not broken, The dog was only used a few times, Her name was Irena not Iliana and there are several other mistakes. The Nobel Peace Prize is given for achievement during the past several years, Irena knew this and asked not to be nominated. The Nobel Committee encouraged her nomination to give her more recognition. She was a big fan of Al Gore."
***********************************************************************************

 [The following Reblogged form Derrolyn.Booklikes.com] Don't feel bad, Malala, the Nobel prize ain't what it used to be...

Source: derrolyn.booklikes.com/post/593272/taliban-very-good-news-malala-didn-t-win-nobel-peace-prize
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review 2013-07-29 19:17
Irena Sendler
Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto - Susan Goldman Rubin

We got a biography of Irena Sendler, by Susan Rubin Goldman, which I read through and which nearly made me start sobbing at the desk. She just passed away, so this seems sort of awfully appropriate. I thought the book did a nice job of balancing awful details with being truthful about what was happening.

Source: bysinginglight.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/picture-book-monday-july-2013
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review 2012-07-19 00:00
The Other Schindler... Irena Sendler: Sa... The Other Schindler... Irena Sendler: Savior of the Holocaust Children - Abhijit Thite, Priya Gokhale I have two questions - 1. How can big budget movies about WW II are mostly just about men? Why Schindler and not Sendler?2. Why did Gore when the Nobel Prize and not Sendler?This book wasn't marketed as Young Adult when I brought it for my kindle, but it has that feel. There is background on WW II and the descriptions of Sendler's imprisonment while not glossed over, seemed to be designed to allow younger reads to read this work. The look at the four girls who did research on Sendler and got her wider fame has a "you can do this too" feel to it, not that there is anything wrong with that.This is more of an essay about Sendler than a biography, ideal for younger readers, but older readers will want something with a little more meat.It is well written. If you have children, this is perfect.
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review 2011-04-10 00:00
Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto
Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto - Susan Goldman Rubin An inspiring introductory portrait of a "Righteous Gentile" who saved the lives of many Jewish children in Warsaw.
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