Irena Sendler: In The Name of Their Mothers



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In the Name of Their Mothers: The Story of Irena Sendler

In the Name of Their Mothers tells the story of Irena Sendler and a group of young Polish women — some barely out of their teens – who outfoxed the Nazis for five years during WWII.

They smuggled thousands of Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto and kept them safe until the end of the war.

For decades Irena Sendler, kept silent about her wartime work. Now, in the last long interviews she gave before she died, she reveals the truth about a daring conspiracy of women in occupied Poland.

Irena Sendler was a 29-year-old social worker when the Nazis invaded Poland.

When the city’s Jews were imprisoned inside the Warsaw ghetto without food and medicine, Sendler and her friends smuggled in aid and began smuggling orphaned children out – hiding them in convents, orphanages and private homes. By 1943, they had managed to smuggle over 2,500 Jewish children to safety outside the ghetto.

Over the next two years, they would care for them, disguise their identities and move them constantly, to keep them from being discovered and killed by the Nazis.

They joined forces with the Polish and Jewish Underground to get money to fund and protect the children’s caretakers and they preserved the true identities of the children in the hopes that they would one day be re-united with their Jewish families.

In October of 1943, Irena Sendler was captured by the Gestapo, imprisoned and tortured for almost three months. When she refused to divulge anything about her co-workers or her organization, she was sentenced to death.

She escaped on the day she was to be executed, when the Polish Underground bribed a German guard. With a new false identity, she continued with her work until the end of the war.

All of the 2,500 children who had been rescued by Sendler’s network survived the war, and many were re-united with their families.

After the war, Soviet authorities who took over in Poland silenced Irena Sendler and her liaisons, because of their connection to the Polish Resistance.

Many of the women endured Soviet prisons or were forced into exile. Today their stories – long kept quiet by the Communist regime in Poland – can finally be told.


Directed and Produced by:
Mary Skinner

Piotr Piwowarczyk

Co-Producer and Director of Photography:
Slawomir Grunberg

Director of Photography:
Andrzej Wolf

Additional Camera:
Tom Hurwitz

Marta Wohl
Renata Fidziukiewicz
Michael O’Connell

Co-Director and Editor:
Wanda Koscia
Anna Ksiezopolska

Original Music:
Tom Disher
Frank Lifman

Supervising Producer:
Betsy Bayha

Post-Production Supervisor:
Marta Wohl

Sound Design and Audio Mix:
Paul James Zahnley, CAS
Disher Music and Sound

Online Facility:
Video Arts, San Francisco California

Online Editor:
Loren Sorensen

Color Correction:
Ed Rudolph

Co-Producted by:
2B Productions, US
Slawomir Grunberg, Multicolor Films, Poland

Made possible with the generous financial support of the Foundation for Polish German Collaboration in Association with TV Poland

Screenings and Awards


• Shoresh Charitable Trust Audience Award for the best documentary Film at the UK Jewish Film Festival, November 2010

• Best Public Interest Award from American International Film Festival in Ann Arbor, MI, October 2010


• Polish Premiere, Kamienica Theater, Warsaw, Poland, February 15, 2010

• New York City – Special Screening, Polish Consulate, NYC, February 27, 2010, 8pm

• Youngstown — an event co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation and the Polish Club, April 25, 2010

• Co-hosted by the Honorary Consuls for the Republic of Poland in the Bay Area and the Taube-Koret Center for Jewish Peoplehood at the JCCSF, San Francisco, California May 4, 2010

Broadcast History

National PBS
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Presented by KQED Public Television/San Francisco

IRENA SENDLER In The Name of Their Mothers is a documentary film about Polish heroine Irena Sendler and her wartime conspiracy of women who outfoxed the Nazis and saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children. Sendler was a 29-year-old social worker when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. After Warsaw’s Jews were imprisoned behind the ghetto walls without food or medicine, Sendler and those she most trusted smuggled aid in and began smuggling orphans out – hiding them in convents, orphanages and private homes in the city and the Polish countryside. Before the Nazis burned the ghetto to the ground, they rescued more than 2,500 children.

Irena Sendler was eventually captured by the Gestapo, imprisoned and tortured after refusing to divulge the identities of her co-workers. On the way to her execution, she escaped thanks to friends who managed to bribe a guard at the last moment. Irena and her co-conspirators were silenced by the Communists who came to power after the Nazis. And they were afraid to speak out for many decades afterwards.

Now at last, their story can be told. IRENA SENDLER In The Name of Their Mothers features the last in-depth interview with Sendler before her death at the age of 98. Rare archival footage, family photographs and evocative re-creations shot in Warsaw bring the lives of the hidden Jewish children, Sendler and her co-workers into dramatic focus. The film is testament to the power of moral courage in the darkest of times.

“This documentary is a stirring tribute to the courage and cunning of a group of women who saved lives at the risk of losing their own,” states John Boland, KQED President and CEO. “We thought there was no better time to premiere this heretofore unknown story than on National Holocaust Remembrance Day. KQED is honored to present IRENA SENDLER In the Name of Their Mothers to our national PBS audience.”

Lead underwriters of the PBS National Broadcast include Taube Philanthropies and the Koret Foundation, The Williams Family Trust, the Foundation for Polish German Collaboration, the Polish American artist, Rafal Olbinski, the Legion of Young Polish Women, and many more organizations and individuals. A complete list of funders is available from PBS.

Reviews and Reactions

Premiere of New Film About Irena Sendler, Office of the President Release
February 15 2010

February 15, 2010, on the centenary of the birth of Irena Sendler – a Righteous Among the Nations, in the Kamienica Theater in Warsaw in a ceremony presided over by the Prime Minister, an American documentary film directed by Mary Skinner, “In the Name of their Mothers, The Story of Irena Sendler” made its worldwide debut.

The premiere ceremony was attended by Secretary of State in the President’s Chancellery Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, as well as the U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Lee A. Feinstein. Also represented at the ceremony were Honorary Patrons, President Lech Kaczynski and the Mayor of Warsaw.


Upon the release Minister Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka announced that on February 15, 2010, the centenary of the birth of Irena Sendler, Polish President Lech Kaczynski met with David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee. During the meeting the President of Poland proposed the establishment of an International Day of Remembrance ofthe Righteous Among the Nations – similar to Holocaust Remembrance Day – on the Annual Birthday of Irena Sendler. The day would also recognize and serve as a Memorial to the 6,135 Poles who have been recognized as Righteous Among Nations.

President Lech Kaczynski was the first to put forward the proposal to honor Irena Sendler, a heroine to both Poles and Jews, with the Nobel Peace Prize. He obtained support for this initiative, from the then Israeli Prime Minister – Shimon Peres.

The proposal to honor these heroic Poles became the beginning of a bigger project to recognize Poles who saved Jews during the war. The President so far, has awarded hundreds of people during several ceremonies, and introduced them to the same pantheon of national heroes.

President Lech Kaczynski’s policy “To Restore Memory” has for four years honored Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust. A ceremony on October 10 2007 at the Grand Theater in Warsaw was the first event of reflective tribute to the Polish Righteous Among the Nations for their unprecedented heroic attitude — not on the battlefield, but in private homes and forest hideouts – and at the risk of direct danger to life one’s own family, neighbors, and sometimes, a whole village.
A year later, on November 17 2008 at the National Theater in Warsaw, for Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust were honored for a second time.

On August 27, 2009 during the celebration of the 65th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto Litzmannstadt, a third group of Poles who saved Jews was honored before world leaders, and people acting on behalf of Polish-Jewish dialogue. On February 9, 2010 in Rzeszow, Poland the fourth group was honored for their heroism in saving Jews during World War II.

Two communities unite to honor a Holocaust hero.
by Bonnie Deutsch Burdman
Special to the CJN
Friday, May 21, 2010

It was a unique opportunity for two communities to come together as, some would say, unlikely friends.

More than 150 Jews and Polish Catholics were on hand at Youngstown State University April 25 for a screening of the documentary “In the Name of Their Mothers.” The film traces the remarkable story of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker who is credited with saving some 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto during WW II. The program, co-sponsored by the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, the YSU Center for Judaic and Holocaust Studies, and the Polish Arts Club of Youngstown, was the first collaboration of a Jewish and a Polish community anywhere for this type of program.


In attendance was Mary Skinner, the documentary’s director, who called the coming together of these two communities to explore Polish history during the Holocaust “remarkable.”

As director of community relations for the Youngstown Federation, I was privileged to introduce the program alongside Polish Arts Club president Mary Anne Mlynarski. The event provided an opportunity for the two communities to begin a conversation on the controversial history of Polish-Jewish relations.

“Many Holocaust survivors have negative attitudes toward Poles based on their experiences,” I told the crowd. “But there are also many Poles who believe that Jews give short shrift to showing that they (Poles) also suffered under the Nazi regime.”

Mlynarski recounted the history of the Polish Jewish community, saying that of the approximately 3 million Jews living in pre-war Poland, less than 30,000 remained afterward. “Polish Jews accounted for over half of all the victims of the Holocaust, and the death camps were established on Polish soil,” she said. “But what must be remembered is that a majority of the Righteous who are honored at Yad Vashem are Polish.”

International Jewish reaction to the recent deaths of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and senior Polish officials in an air disaster “highlights a remarkable change in how the Jewish world now views Poland,” I noted. “Those heartfelt sentiments probably could not have been made 20 or even 15 years ago.”

The program marked the North American première of the completed film. Previously, it had only been screened in Warsaw at a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Sendler’s birth.

“In the Name of their Mothers” recounts how Sendler and a group of young Polish women risked their lives establishing an elaborate underground network to save Jewish children from the ghetto. When the war began, Sendler, 29-year-old social worker, managed to obtain permits from the municipality that enabled her to enter the ghetto to “inspect sanitary conditions.”

Once the breadth of the Nazi “final solution” became evident, Sendler and her network of women began smuggling children out of the ghetto and sheltered them with families and in orphanages and monasteries throughout Poland. The children were given new Christian names as well as forged baptismal papers; however, Sendler kept detailed data on each child’s true identities so that she might reunite them with their families after the war.

Sendler became a major activist for the Council for Aid of Jews (Zegota) and was ultimately arrested, tortured and sentenced to death by the Gestapo in 1943. Zegota managed to bribe officials to release her while her sentence was carried out “on paper.”

On October 19, 1965, Yad Vashem recognized Irena Sendler as Righteous Among the Nations. She died in May 2008 at the age of 98.

Skinner moved to Warsaw in 2004 and spent five months interviewing Sendler. She also shot 70 hours of interviews of other rescuers and hidden children and conducted four years of archival research for the project.

Skinner described her creation of the documentary as a “labor of love” in honor of her mother, a Polish Catholic WW II orphan from Warsaw.

Aundrea Cika, director of Polish Youngstown, closed the program by challenging all in attendance to look beyond historical stereotypes and to ask themselves, “Who would we have been then? What choices would we have made? What choices are we making today?”

Bonnie Deutsch Burdman is director of Community Relations, Government Affairs for the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation.

Reviews and Reactions - in Polish

Premiera Filmu o Irenie Sendlerowej, Oficjalna strona Prezydenta Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej
Poniedzialek, 15 lutego 2010

15 lutego 2010, w setna rocznice urodzin Ireny Sendler – Sprawiedliwej wsród Narodów swiata, w Teatrze Kamienica w Warszawie odbyla sie uroczysta premiera amerykanskiego filmu dokumentalnego w rezyserii Mary Skinner pt.: „W imie ich matek – historia Ireny Sendlerowej”.

W uroczystej premierze udzial wziela Sekretarz Stanu w Kancelarii Prezydenta RP Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, a takze Ambasador USA w Polsce, Lee A. Feinstein. Uroczystosc objeta zostala Honorowym Patronatem Prezydenta RP Lecha Kaczynskiego oraz Prezydent Miasta Stolecznego Warszawy.


Podczas premiery Pani Minister Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka poinformowala, ze 15 lutego 2010, w setna rocznice urodzin Ireny Sendler, Prezydent RP Lech Kaczynski spotkal sie z Davidem Harrisem, Dyrektorem Wykonawczym Amerykanskiego Komitetu Zydowskiego. W trakcie spotkania Prezydent RP zaproponowal ustanowienie Miedzynarodowego Dnia Pami?ci o Sprawiedliwych wsród Narodów Swiata, na wzór ustanowionego przez ONZ Miedzynarodowego Dnia Pamieci o Holokauscie. Rocznica urodzin Ireny Sendler – jednej z 6135 polskich Sprawiedliwych – bylaby jednoczesnie Dniem Pamieci o wszystkich Sprawiedliwym wsród Narodów Swiata.

100 Rocznica Urodzin Ireny Sendlerowej
(15.02.1910 –12.05.2008)

15 lutego 2010 r. przypada 100 rocznica urodzin Ireny Sendlerowej, Sprawiedliwej wsród Narodów Swiata, kobiety, która pomogla ocalic 2500 Zydowskich dzieci od Zaglady. Zapraszamy do odwiedzenia pierwszego w Polsce specjalnego serwisu jej poswieconego.

Premiera w Teatrze Kamienica


Muzeum Historii Zydów Polskich wraz z 2B Productions rozpoczely obchody uroczystoscia w Teatrze Kamienica na warszawskiej Woli, jednym z nielicznych budynków na terenie dawnego getta, który nie ulegl zniszczeniu. Pamiec Ireny Sendlerowej uczczona zostaaa projekcja filmu „In the Name of Their Mothers” („W imie ich matek – historia Ireny Sendlerowej”), dokumentujacego bohaterska dzialalnosc jej i wspólpracujacych z nia kobiet. Rezyserka filmu, Mary Skinner, odszukala mieszkajacych w Stanach Zjednoczonych ocalonych. Z jednym z nich, Williamem Donatem, powraca do Polski, by po kilkudziesieciu latach mógl spotkac Magdalene Grodzka-Gulkowska, jedna z pomocnic Sendlerowej, kobiete, która ocalila jego zycie.

Szczególnymi goscmi uroczystosci byli Sprawiedliwi wsród Narodów Swiata z Warszawy i okolic. Honorowy patronat nad obchodami objeli Prezydent Rzeczpospolitej Polskiej pan Lech Kaczynski oraz Prezydent Miasta Stolecznego Warszawy pani Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz.

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