Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Life In A Jar--a Book Review

The young Irena

Irena in her 90's
The 5 Star Book

I just finished reading Jack Mayer's Life In A Jar for my Book Club. I'd never heard of the book and had no idea what the subject was when a friend dropped it off one afternoon. I became hooked immediately. Most of us are familiar with the film, Schindler's List, which deals with the many Jews one man saved during WWII years. The book I read is about a woman who was just as much a hero in her own right. 

Irena Sendler saved 2500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto in Poland. As a social worker, she was allowed into the ghetto. Often wearing a nurse's uniform, this Catholic woman performed one heroic rescue after another, fear her constant companion. Imagine talking parents into giving their child to you, a woman of another faith. She convinced the parents that the children faced almost certain death. Who wouldn't do what they could to save their own children? Irena, pictured above as the young woman who saved so many and near the end of her long life. 

The book begins in a small town in southeastern Kansas where three high school students need a History Day project for a class. One of the girls happens upon a small article in a national magazine about Irena Sendler and the fact that her rescue work was never acknowledged by the Polish government, which became Communist soon after the end of WWII. What injustice! That was the reaction of the high school students--Megan and Liz. They had the topic for their project. Soon, they brought in Sabrina, an older student, to help them get the project ready for History Day. The girls painstakingly researched Irena Sendler and found bits and pieces. Putting it all together, they produced a play showing Irena and the Jewish parents giving up their children to her. Like a snowball rolling downhill, the project grew and grew with the play being produced locally, in the state capitol, then on to New York and finally, in Europe. 

The first part of the novel, based on fact, details the girls and the project. Then, it moves into Irena's work during those wartime years, her imprisonment and her many friends who aided her. One close friend helped Irena put slips of paper with the names of all the rescued infants and children into glass jars which they buried under an apple tree. They did it so there would be a record of which children were saved. Many were taken in by Christian families and Catholic convents. 

The third part of the book shows the girls making a trip to Poland to visit Irena and some of those she saved. It was thought that she had died in a prison and they were elated to find that she was alive and well in her 90's.Long before the actual visit, Irena and the girls began a correspondence which had to be translated on both ends. The meeting in Warsaw is extremely moving as are the return visits. Irena Sendler lived to be 98. She had the much deserved recognition which she never actually sought. When asked why she did the rescue work she tells the girls it was a thing of the heart, that her father had taught her to always help anyone who needed it. 

The reader is given insight to the lives of this heroic woman and also the three young women who helped gain recognition for her. The author, who is both a pediatrician and a writer, tells us the story masterfully. I admit to crying more than once in this novel which I give 5 stars to, as have many others who have written reviews. Read some of them at the bottom of this Amazon page. Order the book or check your library for a copy. 

There are many photos at the end of the book. I so enjoyed seeing the young women and all those involved in the project plus Irena herself.

World problems seem so overwhelming but Irena's story and the young women who brought it to the world's attention show that one person can make a real difference. 

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