The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler
CBS airs newest installment from Hallmark Hall of Fame
By Sr. Hosea Rupprecht, FSP
April 2, 2009
Based on the true story of Irena Sendler, a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Hallmark Hall of Fame’s latest film, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, airs on CBS, Sunday April 19th from 9:00-11:00 pm. Starring Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Anna Paquin (The Piano, True Blood), this movie tells the remarkable story of Irena Sendler, a Catholic Polish health and social worker during World War II who risked her life saving 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto between 1942 and 1943.
As a health worker, Sendler (Paquin) entered the Ghetto on a regular basis often smuggling food and money. But these small acts were not enough for this woman. Through a network of contacts in the Council for Aid to Jews, called Zegota, she began smuggling children out of the Ghetto and placing them with Polish families and in convents. Her most difficult task was persuading Jewish parents to relinquish their children in order to save their lives. Sometimes she would return to a reluctant parent to find that the whole family had been deported to the work camps.
Sendler’s courageous concern extended to the task of keeping records hoping that she could someday reunite children with their families. The little slips of paper on which she wrote children’s names together with their false names and where she placed them were sealed in jars and buried to avoid discovery.
Paquin gives an inspired performance as Sendler, capturing both her fire and her fear, not for herself but for the children. She tells a little girl, “This war will end and you will survive to be a mother and tell your story. Then, one day, if we are both very clever, I will find you, I promise.” The film also stars Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden (Pollack) as Sendler’s mother and Goran Visnjic (ER) as a former university friend of Sendler who is Jewish and helps her smuggle the children.
Irena Sendler continued her work after the war and was able to reunite some of the children with their families. She died on May 12, 2008 at the age of 98.
Sr. Hosea Rupprecht is an associate at the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Culver City, CA.