The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler


Robert West

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The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler

Filmed on location in Riga, Latvia, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler is based on the 2005 biography, The Mother of the Holocaust Children , by Anna Mieszkowska. The film focuses on Irena Sendler, a Polish social worker who smuggled approximately 2,500 Jewish children to safety during World War II.

Irena Sendler is a social worker whose altruism transcends her own Catholic faith. As a child, Irena developed an emotional connection with the Jewish people because, while treating poor Jewish patients, Irena’s physician father died of typhus. Now, during the relentless, brutal occupation of the Nazis, Irena proposes saving Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto; however, her idea is met with skepticism by not only her fellow workers, but also her parish priest, and her own mother, Janina.

Using the forged identification of a nurse, Irena gains access to the Nazi-guarded compound where the Jews are being held while awaiting inevitable movement to concentration camps. As bold and well-intended as Irena’s plan is, she is met with two arguments against the it: first, many parents fear that they will never see their children again, but Irena assures the parents that she will carefully document where each child is sent such that they will be reunited with their parents after the war; second, other parents object to the possibility that their children will be raised in a faith other than their own, and forget their religious beliefs and traditions.

Irena is assisted by Stefan, a Jewish friend from her university days, who is aware of a few overlooked exits from the ghetto. Stefan uses his knowledge to help Irena and others involved with the underground organization, Zegota, devise strategies to smuggle the children to safety . . . some in boxes hidden under bricks on wheelbarrows, others through sewer systems, and still others brazenly escorted through the front doors of city hall, hand-in-hand with their savior, Irena. Unfortunately, Irena’s scheme is discovered by the Gestapo, and she suffers the consequential pain and humiliation of her bravery, but survives to tell her story.

Although the film did not receive glowing review from the New York Times, The Washington Post, or the Hollywood Reporter, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler is a must-see film to see the manner in which the courageous efforts of one or two people can affect the lives of so many others: how taking a stand, even at the risk of life and limb, is necessary for the honesty and continuity of one’s own integrity.

Variety magazine described the film ". . . taut, emotional and compelling" and added, “Granted, the movie only sparingly touches upon the depth of the Nazi atrocities, and the evidence of them toward the end – brutal as it is – proves relatively tame in light of what transpired. Yet as directed by John Kent Harrison . . . there's persistent tension throughout the movie.”

Any film based on the atrocities of the Nazi regime can never fully capture the moral turpitude of the Nazi Germany nation state, but The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler is a must-see portrayal of a scarcely known, but nonetheless important historical event.

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