TV Movie Honors Sendler's Legacy

Anna PaquinActress Anna Paquin portrays Irena Sendler in the movie.

The life of late Polish social worker Irena Sendler was highlighted in a national television movie on April 19.

"The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler" debuted on the CBS television network as a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. Actress Anna Paquin portrayed Sendler while the story chronicled her heroic effort to rescue 2,500 Jewish children during the Nazi occupation of Poland.

Sendler gained access to the Warsaw ghetto as a social worker and risked her life helping children escape by hiding them in such things as ambulances, suitcases and even wheelbarrows.

NASW has been a supporter of recognizing Sendler's legacy. NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark said the association commends Hallmark Hall of Fame for producing the movie and providing an insightful and educational look into the life of a social worker that few may know about today.

In 2007, NASW sent a letter of recommendation to the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Olso, Norway, in support of nominating Sendler for the Nobel Peace Prize. While Sendler did not win the prize, reports stated that she was chosen for nomination by the committee. Sendler died in 2008 at age 98.

The television movie portrayed how Sendler worked with other social workers to transport the children to safe places until the war's end. As a way to help families reunite after the war, Sendler devised a system of recording information about the children and then buried it in bottles to avoid detection. Sendler was eventually arrested and sentenced to death, but she managed to escape and live in hiding until the war was over. Sendler then worked to reunite the children with relatives when possible. Many of the children's families, however, had been killed during the occupation.

Attention to Sendler's heroic efforts has been invigorated in recent years thanks in part to students at Uniontown High School in rural Kansas. They produced a play about Sendler called "Life in a Jar," which received international acclaim.

According to producers of the Hallmark movie, Paquin researched Sendler's life before filming began in November 2008.

In an interview with Hallmark, Paquin said Sendler was extraordinarily strong and modest. "She had no sense of being in any way special or heroic," Paquin said. "She was angry about what was happening to the Jews she knew personally, and the thousands more she didn't know. She said the only way she could live through that terrible time was to do something. She felt she had no choice."

The movie is based on the 2005 biography, Mother of the Children of the Holocaust: The Irena Sendler Story, by Anna Mieszkowska.

The DVD version of the movie is expected to be available starting this month at Hallmark Gold Crown stores.