Another opportunity comes at 7 p.m., this Thursday, at the Language Corner. Followed by a Q&A conducted by yours truly.
I really wouldn’t miss it, if you haven’t seen the film already. Tad Taube, president of the Koret Foundation and founder and advisory board chair of Stanford’s Taube Center for Jewish Studies, offered not only praise, but help, saying the film “should be seen by every Jew in the United States” when the film had a screening earlier this year at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center.
Irena Sendler, with the women of Żegota, saved 2,500 babies and children from the Warsaw Ghetto (I also wrote about some time ago here). The film tells you how they did it, and why. It includes rare footage of Sendler, who died in 2008, interviewed by her friend, the fimmaker Mary Skinner.
I know, I know. That’s more than twice as many people as Oskar Schindler saved. So why have you never heard of her? It’s so easy for those in the U.S. to forget that there was no happy ending after the end of World War II for half of Europe. Poland was swallowed in the Soviet maw, and Polish patriots were on the hit list — remember Ashes and Diamonds? Or Katyń, another Andrzej Wajda film.
Some time ago I wrote about the Auschwitz hero and martyr, the Polish priest Maximilian Kolbe. While at Auschwitz in 2008 (a horrible place to “visit,” I know, but Adam Zagajewski convinced me that my work in Poland would not be complete without this trip), I spoke with one of the researchers there, Piotr Lipiński. Kolbe had offered his life to save a Polish soldier and father — no one ever made such an offer in the history of the camp. The place was designed to discourage any vestiges of humanity.
I asked Piotr how they could be absolutely sure no one else had ever made the sacrifice. He told me the Soviets had tried and tried to find some alternate hero — someone who was not a Polish Catholic priest. The best they could find after years of efforts was a schoolteacher may have volunteered, though others claimed he had been pushed forward.
Such was life under the U.S.S.R. The Fall of the Wall in 1989 is bringing many names of heroes to light. Think of Polish Army Captain Witold Pilecki. The communist regime in Poland censored any mention of his name in the public record.
The comparisons with Schindler are limited. One has to remember that Poles could be shot on the spot without trial for helping Jews; Schindler was a German industrialist. In any case, Sendler’s friend and my friend, Lili Pohlmann, objects strongly to any comparisons. Quite right.
But let me make one more: Despite this post, I’m not a big fan of movies, but I did see Schindler’s List. I was impressed by the ending, when Schindler desperately wished he could have done more.
Apparently, Irena Sendler, too, used to wake up at night, remembering, wishing, she had done more. She said it often to her friends.