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A sheaf of obituaries paid tribute to the Polish woman who saved 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazi-created ghetto.
It was really only in 1999, after four teenage girls from Kansas were assigned a school history project – to find out more about this rumoured heroine of the German occupation – that her story was uncovered.
For the rest of the war, she lived as her rescued children lived – in hiding, under an assumed name.
This is the point, as peace arrives, where the film will doubtless cut away, slicing to the arrival of the American students five decades later.
She made two coded lists, recording the children’s fake and real identities, and buried these in glass jars in the garden of a friend.
She escaped on the morning of her scheduled execution with the connivance of her guard, who had been bribed by the resistance.
Irena emerged into the international spotlight as a predictable female stereotype: a Madonna of the ghetto, a living saint.
The truth is, Irena, whose special skills saved lives, was not very good at making life happier for herself.’Her daughter, Janka, filled me in.She thought possessions were pointless because they would be destroyed if war came again, so it was my dad who had to buy books for us to read, plates for the kitchen.Irena was ambiguous towards her belated lionisation.She would probably approve, preferring to draw a veil over the intervening years.According to Michal Glowinski, ‘She had a tough life in her relationships.
Irena placed infants with childless couples, and older children in temporary ‘foster’ homes where they learned Catholic rites before melting away into church orphanages and schools.