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Book tells story of children protected during Holocaust

Book tells story of children protected during Holocaust

Those who study the Holocaust are very familiar with the story of Oskar Schindler. Irena Sendler? No
Book tells story of children protected during Holocaust
Dr. Jack Mayer

Those who study the Holocaust are very familiar with the story of Oskar Schindler.

Irena Sendler? Not so much.

Jack Mayer, a pediatrician from Middlebury, Vermont, is changing all that. His book, “Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project,” tells the story of a Catholic Polish social worker, Sendler, whose work in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II helped save 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis and almost certain death.

Mayer will be in the Capital Region for three different appearances this weekend to talk about Sendler and discuss his book, beginning with a book signing Thursday, March 26 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Open Door Bookstore in Schenectady.

“She’s an amazing women, probably the most courageous person I’ve ever met or heard about in my life,” said Mayer, who met Sendler in Poland in 2005, three years before she died at the age of 98. “Meeting Irena was one of the most remarkable moments in my life.”

While the 1993 movie with Liam Neeson told the story of businessman Oskar Schindler and his efforts to keep 1,200 of his workers out of the Nazi camps, Sendler’s story was nearly forgotten until three girls from Uniontown High School in Kansas started “The Irena Sendler Project” in 1999. That story, of how the girls researched Sendler, created a play telling her story, and then traveled to Poland to meet her, is also covered in Mayer’s book.

“My book is also a contemporary story about how three high school students from Kansas found Irena’s lost story of her remarkable rescues,” said Mayer. “It’s about how three teenagers from Uniontown, one of the lowest income districts in Kansas, a place where there weren’t any Jews, blacks, not even Catholics, no diversity at all, yet this is the place where, because of these three girls and a remarkable history teacher, Irena’s forgotten story gets told.”

Norm Conard was the history teacher who encouraged two ninth graders, Megan Stewart and Elizabeth Cambers, and an 11th grader, Sabrina Coons, to research Sendler for National History Day.

“They did an Internet search of her name and got one hit on the Yad Veshem site,” said Mayer. “They started the Irena Sendler Project and performed a play about her, and then a Jewish group in Kansas City asked them to put it on there and it kept on growing. When they started researching her, they had no idea that Irena was even alive.”

‘Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project’

‘Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project’

WHAT: A book signing by Dr. Jack Mayer

WHERE: Open Door Bookstore, 128 Jay St., Schenectady

WHEN: 6-7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 26

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: 346-2719, www.opendoor-bookstore.com

‘Life in a Jar’

WHAT: A play about the life of Irena Sendler

WHERE: Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs

WHEN: 3 p.m. Friday, March 27 and 7 p.m. Saturday, March 28

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: 580-5679, www.skidmore.edu

Mayer, who grew up in the Washington Heights section of New York City and went to Harpur College (now SUNY-Binghamton), first came across Sendler’s story in 2001 after a visit to the Holocaust Museum.

“I’m Jewish, I knew about the Holocaust and yet before 2001 I had never heard of this woman,” said Mayer. “Everyone knows Oskar Schindler, but very few people knew about Irena. It was a very intriguing story. I have always been a closet writer, so I decided to write a book.”

Mayer’s book — it was self-published — has been well received. He has sold over 50,000 copies, and the book has been translated into Polish, Chinese, Russian and French.

Along with Mayer’s appearance at Open Door, three women from Kansas, including one of the original schoolgirls, Megan Stewart, will perform the stage version of “Life in a Jar” at Skidmore College on March 27 at 3 p.m. and March 28 at 7 p.m. Mayer will also speak Sunday, March 29 at 1 p.m. at Congregation Agudat Achim in Niskayuna.

A previous version of this story gave the wrong dates of Dr. Jack Mayer's engagements and play performances. The book signing at Open Door Bookstore is March 26, the play performaces at Skidmore College are March 27-28, and Dr. Mayer is speaking at Congregation Agudat Achim on March 29.

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