“In the Name of Their Mothers”


Irena Sendler

Next Wednesday marks the second anniversary of the death of Irena Sendler.  For most people that will mean little, as the name is little known outside Poland.

But for several hundred people at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center on California Street, it will mean a lot more than it did a few days ago — thanks to last night’s screening of Mary Skinner’s brand new film, In the Name of Their Mothers.

The documentary describes the efforts of the young Polish social worker who, with her team of workers, saved 2,500 Jewish children in the Warsaw Ghetto from almost certain death in Treblinka.  Sendler’s life was the subject of a film on CBS last year, starring Anna Paquin (I wrote about it here after attending the Hollywood premiere), but Skinner has focused more broadly on the women of Żegota, the highly organized team of women who worked together to save lives, as well as the mothers and nuns who sheltered the children, at terrifying peril to themselves.

The film, six years in the making, uses interviews with Sendler, the children she saved (now elderly), and the women who opposed the Nazis.  Skinner also wove her tale with hitherto-unseen, or at least little-seen, archival footage of the Nazis in Poland, and of the Ghetto (some of it taken by Julien Hequembourg Bryan).  I attended the film with Russian filmmaker Helga Landauer, whose own film of Anna Akhmatova (I wrote about it here) made her appreciate the skill of crafting a film from ancient material, and told some stories about the endlessness of film editing — and she had some unusual insights to offer about the squelching of Sendler by the Soviets during the Communist years.  (She also persuaded me to watch A Film About Anna Akhmatova again — apparently I missed an early reference in the film to Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.)

Skinner’s own mother was one of the Polish Catholics taken to a concentration camp, as a young girl barely in her teens.  She had been caught smuggling food.  Her father had been killed, her mother was dying, and her brother and sister had already been taken away.  She was the only one in the family to survive the war.  Years later, she told her American daughter of the “angels of mercy” in Warsaw who rescued the children who had were homeless, destitute, and orphaned by the war.  Skinner said, in her remarks after the film, that she was made aware of “how many wounded children there are in the world.”

She said she made the film “on behalf of all the mothers who extended themselves on behalf of children.”

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.  It’s a memorial of man-gone-crazy, a memorial of courageousness,” and he pledged then and there to “distribute it on a very very broad basis.”

Under the circumstances, that could be quite an offer.  In Poland, the 50,000 DVDs of the movie were snapped up almost instantly.


Children of the Warsaw Ghetto

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2 Responses to ““In the Name of Their Mothers””

  1. Elena Says:

    Just those two photos alone….there are no words…

  2. www Says:

    Last summer I’ve been in Warsaw for a while and I must say this beautiful place made a huge impression on me. You must visit it 😉