Irena Sendler and the SENDLER
PROJECT in Kansas
From the Web Editor
The text below, "A Brief
encounter with the "Sendler Family"…"
by Wanda Muszynski, gives me the opportunity to recall
the following two articles published in 2001 on our
Web site and one new article about Irena Sendler - the
Righteous among the Nations, who saved twenty five hundred
children from the Warsaw ghetto:
1. 'Pani Sendlerowa'
by Marcin Fabjanski, New Horizon, September, 2001
2. 'Life in a Jar'.
Kansas City Star, 12 September 2001.
They are republished right below Wanda Muszynski's text.
We will be looking for new articles in the press on
Irena Sendler and the Sendler Project in Kansas to publish
them on our Web site.
A Brief Encounter with the "Sendler
Family" from Kansas
August 20, 2002
Kansas - for someone raised in
Canada, like me, the name conjures up images of dust
bowls, tornados, ruby red slippers and Judy Garland.
Poland - what does this name, I wonder, conjure up for
those fresh-faced, young, American girls I met (all
too briefly) at Warsaw's hotel Marriott on July 17,
It was the second trip to Poland
for three of the five high school students from Uniontown.
Just over one year ago, Liz, Megan and Sabrina along
with fourth member, Janice, came to be known as the
"Sendler Quartet". Three of the original members
were back in town with two new ones, Lacy and Jessi,
now forming an extended "Sendler Family".
It all started when a high school
social studies teacher by the name of Norman Conard
challenged his students to reach beyond the classroom
and deliver a school project in keeping with the classroom
motto: "He who changes one person, changes the
entire world." The motto echoes the well-known
quotation from the Talmud: "Whoever saves a single
life is as if one saves the entire world." I wondered
if, at the start of their project, these four students
from Kansas had any inkling as to how close they would
come to its meaning.
Through months of research, the
girls uncovered the astonishing story of Irena Sendler,
a non-Jewish, social worker who, during the devastating
events of World War II and the Holocaust, smuggled some
2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. She
kept the records of these children's true identities
hidden in jars and buried in a garden with the hope
that one day, after the war, they might be claimed by
surviving relatives. Irena Sendler did not work alone.
She operated within the network of a clandestine organization
code-named "Zegota", which stood for the Council
for Aid to Jews in occupied Poland. Through its links
with the Polish Underground, Zegota was able to access
resources - expert document forgers, well-placed administrative
contacts, financial aid - all of which made possible
the rescue of 2,500 children who were placed in orphanages,
convents, schools, hospitals and private homes.
The Kansas students' dramatization of this incredible
story (called "Life in a Jar") might have
stayed within the confines of the Uniontown community
were it not for the sparks the performance ignited amongst
people moved not only by Irena Sendler's story but by
the impact it has had on the girls who tell it. Most
prominent among these is John Shuchart, a Kansas businessman
with a passion for teaching. It was John who raised
the funds for the students' and their teacher's first
trip to Poland in June 2001 and their first remarkable
meeting with then 91-year old Irena Sendler. He was
also instrumental in orchestrating this second trip
during which the students were able to further their
research and knowledge about Zegota.
Now, with this second trip to
Poland, I am sure that they are learning that there
is a lot more to this country than initially meets the
eye. I know that I can certainly say the same about
Wanda Muszynski is Canadian of Polish background, a
member of the Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation and
of the editorial board. She is temporarily residing
New Horizon, September 2001
'In your sensitive hearts you unconsciously felt that
what is generally referred to in your country as the
Holocaust is inadequately understood. You decided to
seek out the truth. And a small, faint path led you
to me' - wrote Irena (wartime code name 'Jolanta') Sendlerowa
to four Uniontown students in the State of Kansas.
They give me a seat right at the
back, by the engine of the small Douglas DC-9. The loud
roar is distracting. I'm about to meet a history teacher
and four young women, students of a rural high school,
in love with a Polish woman who rescued Jews from the
Should I tell them about Jedwabne
or not? - I say to myself. If I tell them, their love
affair with the Poles will end. If I don't, they won't
know the whole truth.
I am flying to Kansas from New
York with a stopover in Detroit. Six hours in all. Then
another two hours by car. A lot of time in which to
decide. And yet when the sign 'Uniontown' appears on
the gravel shoulder, I still haven't made a decision.
A few sparsely scattered buildings.
Herds of cattle grazing on green hills. A huge, new
high school built of red brick. This is where the story
September 1999. Megan Stewart
(15 years old) and Elizabeth Cambers (16) dash up to
their history teacher, Norman Conard. Clutched in Megan's
hand is a photocopied article clipped from the March
21, 1994 issue of U.S. News & World Report. 'Here's
our project for the history contest!' she announces.
Norman Conard: 'The article came
out after Spielberg's film. It was about people who
rescued large numbers of Jews but who never became famous
like Schindler. One of them was a Polish woman, Irena
Sendlerowa, who smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of
the Warsaw Ghetto and farmed them out to Christian families.
She buried their names, in jars, in her garden, so that
after the war they could be returned to their parents.
I didn't believe this number was accurate, so I said
to the girls: OOK, but first check to see that two and
a half thousand is correct' ...
They check. It takes them half
a year. They make several visits to the Kansas City
Library, consult dozens of books, microfilms and articles,
including specialist studies on Judaism and typhus.
They get access to government documents on the Holocaust,
talk for hours on the telephone with World War II veterans,
watch documentary films ordered by mail.
And none of this was for marks!
- observes Norman Conard, amazed at the diligence of
his students. Finally, they return to their teacher
with a pile of corroborating evidence in hand. It's
true. The underground organization 'Zegota,' whose operations
Irena Sendlerowa coordinated, rescued 2,500 Jewish children
from the Warsaw Ghetto.
Says Norman Conard pensively:
'The hero of Schindler's List is a materialistic businessman.
In this case, however, the main role is played by a
fragile woman. Her story has great power. That's why
everyone was so eager to help my students in their research.
A simple phone call was all that was needed...
In March of 2000, curious to know
where Irena Sendlerowa was buried, Megan and Elizabeth
(they are joined by Sabrina Coons and Janice Underwood)
place a call to the Foundation of the Just in New York.
A man answers the call.
'Irena Sendlerowa's still alive. She's 90 years old
and lives in Warsaw,' he replies. 'Want her address?'
Warsaw. A small flat on Na Rozdrozu
Square. Irena Sendlerowa inserts another sheet into
her ancient typewriter. 'My dear, sweet girls, so close
to my heart!' This is how she starts each of her letters
to her young American friends.
Typing is not easy for her. She is now 91. Her deformed
hands ache (the Gestapo broke them at the Pawiak Prison
in Warsaw, and the bones have never properly set). She
can hardly walk. Diabetes has ruined her eyesight. After
every paragraph she pulls the sheet out of the typewriter
and examines it for errors under a magnifying glass.
She makes her corrections with a ball-point pen, then
reinserts the sheet. The tiny room amplifies the labored
tap-tapping of the keys.
It's hard for me to talk about it, but I'd like to be
honest with you to the point of pain. I'm certain that
with your sensitivity you will surely understand this.
Last year I suffered a great tragedy - the death of
my son. For a mother, this is the greatest misfortune
she can experience.
They say that such wounds heal with the passage of time.
But it's not the case. The pain increases, and so it
will continue until the end.
She taps in a key but the machine fails to type the
A Seventy-Two Minute Call
Uniontown. Four girl students
poring over a half-typed and half-hand-written letter
in Polish. My typewriter broke down so I have to finish
by hand. I didn't write about my unhappiness earlier
because, knowing that you have tender, sensitive hearts,
I didn't wish to upset you. This time I had to inform
you of my tragedy so that you might understand my mental
state (which worsens by the day) and not hold it against
me, since it really was my wish to see you. Recalling
all those past experiences has made me feel worse. Forgive
me, my dear, sweet children, but I won't be able to
receive you in my present state of mind. All my love
'Jolanta' Irena Sendlerowa.
An English translation of the
letter lies nearby. It has taken them several weeks
to find a translator ? through the Internet. No Poles
living in the area. Only white Protestants believing
in the Bible and a strict upbringing. They dislike promiscuity
Krzysztof Zyskowski, a Polish ornithologist at Kansas
City University (located one hundred and fifty kilometers
north of Uniontown) translates the letters.
Norman Conard: - One day the principal
called me into his office and presented me with a telephone
bill. Who in my class - he asked - had racked up a 72
minute call to Kansas City? It took me a while to recall
that that was how long the translation of one of Irena
Sendlerowa's letters had taken over the phone...
But the Uniontown students are
to meet Irena Sendlerowa after all. Thanks to a dramatic
sketch they have written about her.
They don't know who is to play Irena Sendlerowa. Megan
knows what she looks like from a photograph taken during
the 40s but she's not comfortable in that role. Instead,
she plays Irena's friend, Maria, and a Gestapo officer
who is bribed to release Irena from Pawiak Prison. Elizabeth
plays the role of Irena Sendlerowa.
After a month of rehearsals, they
learn their acting is a disaster.
'The Holocaust or Life in a Jar' runs its premiere before
the history class in February of 2000. The other students
have numerous observations to make.
'They told me I had to show more
emotion,' says Elizabeth. 'They didn't get the impression
I wanted to save these children.'
They put on the play at the Assembly of God, Megan's
Protestant church, located ten kilometers outside of
Uniontown. When they finish, a man comes up to them:
'You've got it all wrong,' he says. 'Sendler was a man.
I've seen the Spielberg movie.' But others in the audience
Dean Myers, red-haired minister
of the Assembly of God congregation: - They also performed
the play during a Wednesday service. It was a blessing
to us. We were able to see how much people can risk
for others...After this, the play is shown to hundreds
of students at schools as well as at seniors' homes
throughout Kansas and Missouri. At Westbridge School
in Kansas City, three groups - each numbering a hundred
students - watch the performance. Teacher John Shuchart,
who is Jewish, sees the play as well. After the performance,
he takes them to a restaurant. 'I wanted to see if they
saw this as merely one of many projects or if they really
were so moved by the story,' says John. In just a few
minutes, he knows the story has changed their lives.
After dinner, he asks: 'Is there anything you'd like?'
'Yes,' replies Megan, 'we'd like to meet Irena Sendlerowa.'
'Then you'll meet her,' he promises. Two days later,
he sends six and a half thousand dollars to Uniontown,
for their trip to Poland. The money has been donated
by his Jewish friends.
Norman Conard: - John was truly
moved. There is a great deal of prejudice in the rural
mid-West. Anti-Semitism too. No one expresses it openly,
but it's firmly entrenched nevertheless. One of our
students who played the part of a mother entrusting
her children to Irena Sendlerowa - withdrew. Her parents
didn't want her to play a Jewish woman. This story is
one of the best responses to anti-Semitism. No moralizing
In donating the money, John Shuchart
sets two conditions: that they embrace Irena Sendlerowa
for him, and that upon their return from Warsaw they
tell him everything that takes place there.
* * *
From a letter of Irena Sendlerowa
to her Uniontown student friends:
We, that is my contacts and I, would bring the children
out by four methods: 1) A truck carrying various cleaning
materials would be allowed into the Ghetto. Antoni Dabrowski
was the driver and also a fellow-conspirator. At a prearranged
place in the Ghetto he would pick up a child and, either
myself, or one of my contacts. The child had to be very
well concealed in the truck, inside some big box of
cleaning materials or - alas - a potato sack. The wretched
child, often forcibly taken from its parents or grandparents,
would be in sheer terror and scream desperately. Alas,
no one has ever described what occurs in the little
heart of such a child: we had to pass through the gate
which was always guarded by German sentries. At any
moment they might hear the child. One day, Dabrowski
said to me: 'Jolanta, I can't go with you any more on
these extremely dangerous missions. One of these days
the Germans are going to hear the pathetic screams and
put all of us against the wall.'
I begged him to think of something, that he might continue
working with us. A few days later, he said with an enormously
satisfied look on his face: 'I've come up with a great
idea. I'm going to take a very fierce dog with me. When
we arrive at the gate, I'll step hard on his paw and
his barking will drown out the child's screams.'
25 April 2001. B'nai Jehudah Synagogue
in the suburbs of Kansas City. 250 people attending.
John Shuchart approaches the microphone:
'How many people did Oscar Schindler save? One thousand.
Irena Sendlerowa rescued two and a half thousand. And
has anyone made a motion picture about her?' - he asks.
The comparison strikes home. The audience - students
mostly - quiets down. Four girls come out on the small
stage. A wrought iron gate bearing the name 'Warsaw
Ghetto' provides the backdrop (the Uniontown students
built it during farming class).
'Life in a Jar' lasts all of ten
minutes (such were the requirements of the history contest).
The girls rehearse it in the school gymnasium with the
help of a stopwatch.
Irena Sendlerowa (Elizabeth Cambers), wearing a coat
and kerchief, heads toward the Ghetto to rescue Jewish
children. Her friend (Megan Stewart) holds her back.
'You'll be killed,' she says. Irena tries to convince
a mother (Janice Underwood) to send her child away.
She refuses and Irena promises to return. The next time,
the mother agrees to hand her child over. That day she
saw a Gestapo officer kill a woman on the street. Irena
writes the child's name on a card and puts it in a jar
which she buries in the garden. Finally, she is caught
by the Gestapo. A friend in the underground resistance
movement rescues her by bribing the guard.
The applause lasts for several
minutes. The crying of a few of the students - even
longer. Terry Goldberg, a Kansas City teacher, wipes
her eyes with a tissue.
'Last summer I visited Yad Vashem
in Israel,' she says. 'There I saw a tree planted by
Irena Sendlerowa. I had no idea of the story behind
it. Only now do I realize what a risk the Poles took
in saving Jewish people.' The most moved is Rabbi Joshua
Tanb: 'These girls - he observes - had the courage to
come to a Jewish house of prayer and tell the Jews a
fragment of their own history. If it had been me telling
it, it would have moved no one. There he goes again,
talking about the Holocaust - they'd say. He's got to.
He's a rabbi! But these girls have shown us that this
part of our history is important not only to the Jews...
After the performance Rabbi Tanb
gives Norman Conard a hug. The teacher smiles with satisfaction.
The power of this story - he sums up - has once again
shocked us. People weep at every performance. Is it
because of the girls' acting? No. The quality of the
script? No. Then why? It's the story itself that draws
tears. Jars with names in them can evoke only one reaction:
* * *
From Irena Sendlerowa's letter to her Uniontown student
Another method of smuggling out children was the streetcar
terminal located in the Ghetto. The husband of one of
my contacts was a streetcar driver. On the days he was
on duty, we would bring over a child. He would hide
it in the empty streetcar and drive it over to the so-called
'Aryan side'. I, or one of my contacts, would be waiting
there, to collect the child. We always took the child
to one of four 'shelters' which were run only by the
noblest and most courageous of our collaborators. In
these shelters the child would be provided with the
most tender care, so as to soothe, at least to a minimal
degree, its childish pain - the tragedy of being separated
from its love ones.
A big jar labeled 'Irena Sendlerowa'
stands on Norman Conard's desk. It contains several
crumpled banknotes and a number of coins, mostly one
cent pieces. In one of their letters to Warsaw, the
girls enclose a postal order in the amount of three
dollars. In reply, they receive a receipt from Warsaw's
Children's Home where 'Jolanta' has relayed the money.
The ornithologist from Kansas
City translates the following: 'Do not send me any more
money as I receive pension benefits. I can always find
money to correspond with people who are dear to me.'
After sending their first letter in March of 2000, the
girls have to wait half a year before receiving an answer.
'Jolanta' replies that they can ask her anything they
like. So they ask.
How did she smuggle out the children?
Did she still have contact with any of them? Had anyone
made a film or written a book about her? Once they send
her a T-shirt with Irena Sendlerowa's name and their
signatures on it.
Each question is answered (there
has been no film or book about her, a few of those rescued
by 'Zegota' are still living in Poland).
On one occasion, she lectures them: 'I also beg you
not to make a hero out of me as that would distress
* * *
From Irena Sendlerowa's letter
to her Uniontown student friends:
3) Some of the Ghetto houses had cellars abutting on
cellars belonging to Poles. The subsequent course of
action was as described above.
Sabrina Coons (gesturing with
her hands): - The project gave me the opportunity of
exploring my roots. My great-grandmother was also in
the Warsaw Ghetto! She was rescued by her fiance who
was a German guard. She escaped and came to America...
Janice Underwood (weighing her words carefully): - I
play her best friend who worries about her. If it had
happened to me, I would have worried ten times as much.
I've never been in such a situation...
Megan Stewart (with sadness in her voice): - In late
November, during our second month of rehearsals, I asked
my mother how she would feel if she had to give me away
and was not sure if she were losing me for ever. She
burst into tears. She said that this was exactly what
she was not sure of. That morning, she had found out
that she had cancer. From that day on, I discussed the
play with her every day. It was easier for me to play
my role. From the stage at Shawnee Mission in Kansas
City I saw a mother crying. I burst into tears myself...
Megan's mother, Debra (in a soft
voice): - Megan saw me through my chemotherapy. She
sat in the hospital for hours. That play drew us closer
together. Megan has learned how precious people are.
While I was at the hospital, she had to do the laundry,
clean house and cook. Irena's story gave her strength...
Norman Conard (probingly): - Knowing
Megan before she took on the play and now, you'd think
Megan were two completely different people. Just a year
ago, I was wondering what it was about the project that
interested her. Now she's leader of the group. She's
matured in an incredibly short time.
Elizabeth Cambers (earnestly): - Before, I had no idea
what the Holocaust was. I'd seen photos of dead people.
I knew something really evil had happened. I wanted
to know why. I would never have done what Irena did.
I can't compare her with any other historical figure.
She's at the top of my list of heroes...
Norman Conard: - Elizabeth's mother is a drug addict.
Her father's forbidden, by court order, to see her...
Elizabeth's grandmother, Debbie: - Elizabeth has grown
as a result of the project. When she was five years
old, her mother abandoned her in Kansas City. She appeared
at our door without a word of explanation. We've no
idea how she found us. She was a nervous wreck. She
didn't know how to eat her meat. Didn't listen to us.
Did things out of spite. Now we're going with her to
Poland, to meet Irena and give Elizabeth support. She
needs someone she can rely on. I've never been overseas...
Janice Underwood (earnestly):
- I want to be a psychiatrist. I was the last to join
the group. The story just caught my interest. In her
next letter Irena Sendlerowa welcomed me as the newest
member of the group, and told me she loved me as much
as the other girls. Now she's my hero. The play has
taught me to speak to in front of large groups. I always
used to be shy...
Janice's mother, Diane, a teacher's
aid at the public school across the street: ? I had
a good weep when I saw them rehearse in the gym. Then
they staged a rehearsal at my house. They asked me if
they should change something. But what was I to tell
them? I don't know a tenth of what they know about the
Holocaust. I have a dim recollection from school that
it was something tragic. I'm happy Janice is going to
Poland. The hardest thing will be seeing Auschwitz.
She just got her passport. I don't have mine...
A nation-wide TV station learns
about the play and puts it on the air. Reporters begin
descending on Uniontown. After the contest finals in
Washington, the 'Sendler Quartet', as they come to be
called, receives national exposure on C-Span and Public
They travel to New York to perform the play before the
Foundation of the Just. 'It was on the fiftieth floor.
With a view of Central Park!' says Megan, her eyes shining
at the memory of it.
They win the state history contest in Kansas and qualify
to go on to Washington. There they lose. 'All because
of one reporter. He kept shoving his microphone under
the noses of the jury members and asking them what they
thought of us. That bugged them,' - explains Megan.
* * *
From Irena Sendlerowa's letter to her Uniontown student
The fourth method: The Polish Courthouse was located
inside the Ghetto. The main entrance was kept locked.
You entered the building from the rear, that is from
the so-called 'Aryan side' (I find this phrase very
painful to use). Once again, we made secret contact
with two sergeants-at-arms. At a given signal, these
noble, incredibly courageous men would open the door
from the Ghetto side. You simply walked in with the
child and the trusted sergeant shepherded you out through
to the Polish side.
All of these 'escape routes' involved
small children only (there were also a few infants).
For older, 12-, 13-year old children, as well as young
people between the ages of 14 and 18, we resorted to
altogether different methods.
By agreement with the Jewish police
(who to a terrifying degree acquitted themselves badly
with respect to their fellow-countrymen), the Germans
organized special teams of skilled workmen and young
people. Every morning, under strict control, these teams
would be allowed out of the Ghetto to report to various
workshops. They had to return after 10-12 hours of enormously
exhausting work. Every day the Jewish Commune appointed
a leader who would be responsible for both the team
members' work and their return. The group was counted,
and the same number of workers would have return at
the end of the day. Now and then we would come across
a young Jewish Commune worker who wished to leave the
Ghetto. At such times we would add a few of 'our' boys
and girls to that worker's team. The entire group would
be assigned a meeting place on the 'Aryan side' of Grojecka
Street. One of us would appear there and take 'our charges'
to the house of one of our 'Zegota' collaborators. After
two or three days, members of the Peoples' Army would
come and take the youngsters to join the forest partisans.
Every year at the end of April,
Norman Conard starts teaching his Grade 11 history unit
about World War II. The teacher doesn't read The New
York Times. He has never heard of Jedwabne. When I tell
him about Polish anti-Semitism, he shows no surprise.
Norman Conard: - Show me the country where there are
no anti-Semites. If I were a Pole, I'd be proud of Irena
Sendlerowa, and tell everyone about her. I don't know
what they're saying about the Poles in New York. For
us, in Uniontown, you are a nation of heroes...
Translated by Christopher Zakrzewski.
Reprinted by permission of NEW HORIZON copyright 2001.
All rights reserved
Kansas City Star
12 September 2001
Four of Milken Educator Norm
Conard's (KS '92) students discovered an unsung heroine
of the Holocaust and spread her story around the world
The four girls from Kansas
who discovered Irena's story
(Photo by Karen Conard)
In 1942, as Jews throughout Europe were being rounded
up and transported en masse to Nazi concentration camps
to face an unthinkable fate, one woman took courageous
action and risked her own life to save thousands of
Her name was Irena Sendler. Though she herself was not
Jewish, she feared for the lives of Jews around her,
particularly the children. As head of the children's
section in the Polish underground movement known as
Zegota, she was unable to sit by and not do anything.
So she went into the Warsaw Ghetto and persuaded Jewish
parents and grandparents to place their children in
her care, saying that they were certain to die in the
Ghetto or in the Nazi death camps unless they could
be spirited away to safety.
Smuggling the children past Nazi guards through a variety
of means - hiding them in body bags or under loads of
goods - Ms. Sendler took them into the homes of Polish
families, where they were adopted and raised with false
identities. Ms. Sendler made lists of these children
and placed the lists in a jar that she buried in a garden,
hoping she could someday dig up the jar, locate the
children and inform them of their past.
Irena Sendler as a young
woman (Photo courtesy of the Jewish Foundation
for the Righteous)
From 1942 to 1943, Ms. Sendler managed to smuggle 400
children out of the Warsaw Ghetto before she was captured
by the Nazis and severely punished for her actions.
Even under extreme torture, she refused to reveal where
the lists of the smuggled Jewish children were hidden.
Eventually, a member of the Polish underground bribed
a guard to release her, and she entered into hiding.
Even then, she continued to work with Zegota to rescue
another 2,100 children.
It's a remarkable story, and considering all the remarkable
stories from the Holocaust that have surfaced over the
past several years, it's hard to believe that this one
went largely unnoticed. And it might have stayed that
way, were it not for four high school students from
Changing the World
It began as a class assignment from their teacher, Milken
Educator Norm Conard (KS '92): create a year-long project
for the National History Day Competition that would,
among other things, extend the boundaries of the classroom
to families in the community, contribute to the learning
of history, and meet the classroom motto, "He who
changes one person, changes the entire world."
A guide takes the four girls
from Kansas on a tour of a Jewish cemetery in
(Photo by Karen Conard)
As the four girls - Elizabeth Cambers, Megan Stewart,
Sabrina Coons and Janice Underwood - began doing their
research, they discovered an article in U.S. News and
World Report about Ms. Sendler, and were surprised by
the number of children she had saved.
"I thought it might have been a typographical error,"
said Mr. Conard, "since I had not heard of this
woman nor her story."
The girls wrote a play based on her life called "Life
in a Jar," which they entered into the National
History Day Competition and began performing in front
of numerous community organizations. What happened next
is a story in itself.
The play was extremely well-received every time it was
performed. Though Uniontown is a small community with
little ethnic diversity and no Jewish residents, the
response to the play was so extraordinary that the town
designated an "Irena Sendler Day."
91 year-old Irena Sendler
in her Warsaw apartment
(Photo by Karen Conard)
Assuming that Ms. Sendler was no longer living, the
four students began a search for her final resting place.
They were surprised to learn that she was still alive,
living in poverty in Warsaw, Poland. They contacted
Ms. Sendler, telling her of their project and the response
it was getting. She wrote back letters written in Polish,
which were translated with the help of a Polish student
at a local Kansas college.
"Your performance and work is continuing the effort
I started over fifty years ago," wrote Ms. Sendler.
"You are my dearly beloved girls."
The girls decided to raise money on behalf of Ms. Sendler
and other rescuers. They began taking a jar to each
performance to collect donations. They contacted an
organization in New York City called the Jewish Foundation
for the Righteous, which helped the girls send the money
they had raised to a Polish bank in Warsaw.
The girls from Kansas speak
to the Polish media (Photo by Karen Conard)
At the same time, they began receiving national attention
for the story they had "rediscovered," appearing
on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, CBS, and numerous
newspaper articles. They were invited to perform their
play in Washington, D.C. and before the Jewish Foundation
for the Righteous in New York City. Mr. Conard was contacted
for the book and film rights to his students' story.
A True Heroine
One day in January 2001, the girls performed their play
before a large school district in Kansas City, about
100 miles from Uniontown. In the audience was John Shuchart,
a Jewish educator and businessman who was so moved by
the performance that he asked to have lunch with Mr.
Conard and his students that day. Hearing that Ms. Sendler
was still alive, Mr. Shuchart told the girls he would
raise the money to send them to Warsaw to meet her in
person and bring back her story. Because she is 91 and
in poor health, he urged the girls to travel as soon
Mr. Shuchart raised the money in 24 hours, and on May
22, 2001, Mr. Conard, his wife, the four students and
several of their parents traveled to Warsaw, Poland,
where they met Ms. Sendler in person.
Elizabeth Cambers (left)
and Janice Underwood (right), holding hands with
Irena Sendler in the heroine's Warsaw apartment
(Photo by Karen Conard)
It was an emotional moment. When the 91 year-old woman
pushed her walker across her apartment to greet them,
what the four young girls saw was a heroine of immense
stature. But with the modesty one often finds in truly
heroic people, Ms. Sendler characterized herself and
her life as merely ordinary.
The girls still perform their play in front of local
churches, civic groups and clubs, with performances
booked until the summer of 2002. They continue to conduct
research on Ms. Sendler's story and correspond regularly
with Ms. Sendler and the people she rescued. They have
established an e-mail address - firstname.lastname@example.org
- which receives daily messages from across the nation.
Three more students have joined the group to help with
all the email and research. They have donated their
correspondence with Ms. Sendler to various universities,
historical societies, and to the Jewish Foundation for
the Righteous in Chicago and New York City. A local
college professor has been using their letters from
Ms. Sendler in his World History class.
The story of Irena Sendler has had a profound effect
not only on those who have heard the story, but on the
storytellers as well. The girls regularly write on their
homework papers notes such as, "I'm changing the
world" and "Irena's story must be told."
"I've traveled with the girls to numerous performances
and watched the great emotion that pours out of the
audience during their presentation," said Mr. Conard.
"They have literally taken our class motto - 'He
who changes one person, changes the entire world.' -
and brought it to life."