The play “Life in a Jar,” set amid the death and destruction of the Holocaust, tells the story of one woman who made a decision that would impact the lives of many for years to come. Irena Sendler, a woman from Warsaw, Poland, risked her life to save as many Jewish children as she could from the Warsaw Ghetto.
On Friday, in an event sponsored by K-State’s College of Education, “Life in a Jar” was shared with those who filled the Little Theatre’s seats. The college emphasizes project-based learning – taking a real life project and learning from it – which is exactly how the Irena Sendler Project was born.
“It was absolutely heartwarming and brought to life in a really real way what happened during this time,” Debbie Mercer, dean of the College of Education, said.
In 1999, a group of high school students in Uniontown, Kan. were looking for a topic for a history project, and decided they wanted to learn more about the Holocaust. Their teacher and director of the Irena Sendler Project, Norman Conard, gave them a box of newspaper clippings where they found an article about a woman who saved over 2,500 Jewish children in the Warsaw Ghetto. They were shocked by this and decided to research her story.
“It only takes a little light to counteract the darkness,” said Sendler in Jack Mayer’s book, “Life in a Jar: the Irena Sendler Project.” Her life and actions emphasized “tikkun olam,” a Hebrew saying that means, “repair the world.”
Sendler was not known to the world before the students’ investigation. Headed by Megan Felt, the students decided to write and perform a play depicting Sendler’s role in the Holocaust. A few months later, they found out she was alive and residing in Poland. People involved in the “Irena Sendler Project” visited Sendler in Poland and created a close relationship with her before her death in 2008.
“In 1999 she was hardly even known in her own country,” Conard said. “14 years later, people are talking about her as being one of the most heroic women of the whole century.”
However, it wasn’t long before Sendler’s story became known worldwide. A website created by the students for the project now has over 43 million hits. “Life in a Jar” has been performed 316 times all over the world in places such as Canada, Poland, and 30 U.S. states.
“It’s one of the most enlightening and uplifting endeavors that we’ve ever been in involved in so far,” Conard said.
Felt continues to perform “Life in a Jar,” 14 years after the discovery of Sendler’s heroic story.
“’Life in a Jar’ has absolutely changed my life,” Felt said. “One of the things Irena taught us is if you see someone drowning you have to jump in and save them, whether you know how to swim or not.”
Sendler saw that the Jewish religion, as a whole, was drowning and to her, saving the children was a way to save it.
“She told us that you cannot separate people based on race, religion and creed,” Felt said. “You can only separate people by good and evil, and know that good will triumph.”
Felt is the program director at the Lowell Milken Center in Fort Scott, Kan., where their goal is to tell the stories of unsung heroes, like Sendler.
“Seeing the impact Irena has had on people makes me want to be a better person,” said Jaime Berndt, a Pittsburg State graduate who has performed in “Life in a Jar” for eight years.