Thursday, October 08, 2015

Save the Children: Jars of Hope: How One Woman Helped Save 2,500 Children During the Holocaust by Jennifer Roy

JULY 18, 1942

Irena knocked on a door."It is time," she said.

Henia Koppel gently placed her baby girl into Irena's carpenter's toolbox. Irena put a dropper of medicine into Bieta's mouth to make her sleepy.

As Irena began to close the box, the baby's grandfather quickly slipped something inside. It was a small silver spoon marked with the baby's name--Elzbieta, 5 January, 1942.

"A gift from her Momma and Poppa," he said, wiping tears from his eyes.

Irena took a deep breath and stepped out into the Warsaw Ghetto, carrying her precious cargo.

When Irena Sendler was a little girl in Poland, going with her doctor father on visits, she noticed that the Jewish people were treated differently from the others.

"Irena," her father said, "It doesn't matter if they are rich or poor, what religion or race. What matters is if they are good or bad."

Irena grew up to become a social worker, and when the Nazis took over Poland and locked the Jews of Warsaw inside the Ghetto, she felt compelled to help them. Assigned to seeing that everyone inside the walls was vaccinated, she began to smuggle in food and medicines. Then, seeing the beginning of the "transportation" of the Jews to concentration camps, she resolved to save as many children as she could from death.

Working with Zegota, the Polish resistance movement, Irena smuggled children out of Ghetto in delivery trucks, in potato sacks, in loads of trash, through sewer tunnels, or even hidden inside of coffins. A truck driver friend helped her with babies, training his dog Shepsi to bark loudly on cue to drown out any crying. She gave the older children new Christian names and taught them to say the Lord's Prayer like good Catholics and found foster parents or safe houses for them in orphanages and convents.

Everyone knew that if caught they would be put to death. But it was the right thing to do.

Elena even risked her life further by keeping secret lists of the families of the rescued children so that they might be reunited after the war. She buried the jars with the records inside by night in a friend's yard, and when she was taken to jail, interrogated and beaten by the Gestapo, she revealed nothing.

"I'm just a social worker," Elena would answer. "I don't know anything."

And because of Elena's jars of hope, those parents who survived the concentration camps were able to be reunited with their children, and baby Bieta grew up to remain friends with Irena until she died just short of her 100th birthday.

Jennifer Roy's Jars of Hope: How One Woman Helped Save 2,500 Children During the Holocaust (Encounter: Narrative Nonfiction Picture Books) (Capstone Press, 2015) tells the true story of Irena Sendler, a lesser-known but courageous hero of the Holocaust.  For young readers familiar with that grim piece of World War II history, the author uses an accessible narrative style to take elementary reader right into the terror-filled moments Irena must have known as she risked her life as one of the "Righteous Christians" of Poland.  There is suspense aplenty in the accounts of Irena's harrowing rescues to grip middle readers' attention, and in artist Meg Owenson's paintings, done in a sober palette of deep shades and dim light reminiscent of vintage sepia photos, which make real the sorrows of that long-ago Warsaw Ghetto. A fine addition to the history and literature of that war and its real heroes, and a good preface for the reading of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.

Appended are an Author's Note and Afterword telling of the long life and work of Irena Sendler, a glossary, source notes, and index.

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