I had heard of Irena Sendler and her amazing work prior to picking up this book, but somewhere in the middle I realized that it was still only because of the events in this book that I had heard of her at all. Prior to Life in a Jar, which started out as a high school project, not much of anyone had heard of Irena Sendler. Since the events of this book, I’ve seen her name grace the covers of several books for different age groups.
The story of Irena Sendler in itself is amazing and heroic. She had been one of the many heroes who had lived and worked during the time of the Holocaust. She worked to save children from the Warsaw ghetto and managed to get an astounding 2500 of them out. One of the most remarkable things about her story is the way it highlights that there were plenty of decent people at the time who did what they could. There was a whole network of people working to save these children, some getting them out of the ghetto itself while others hid them in their homes, pretending they were visiting relatives or their own children.
The book covers both Irena’s life during this time and the high school project that brought her story to light, titled Life in a Jar. It began in Kansas, of all places, in 1999. It’s strange to think that I graduated high school that year. So much has changed, especially when it comes to the recognition of womens roles and bravery in time of war. I see so many stories of brave women nowadays. They were always there, just not told or wisely known, just like Irena Sendler.
But to be fair, the Jewish people knew and recognized her well before the rest of the world heard her story. I was fascinated by the way her story tied into the overall political situation of Poland for the time until this project. We forget sometimes, what the world goes through, when we’ve come away from it. It’s harder everyday to remember what communism did in the aftermath of fascism. Sendler’s story is a reminder of this as well.
In addition to the remarkable story of both Irena Sendler and the project that brought her story to world recognition, the writing is quite good. Mayer ties things together nicely. He begins with the project but tells Irena’s story as her own and the story of the project separately, never letting one give away the moment for the other. I appreciated how thorough the book is, going so far as to give an update on how the project was doing, where the originators were, and all the after effects. This project inspired several others and grew a life of it’s own in Kansas to bring notoriety to more heroes.