A concert was held July 5 at the Melbourne Recital Centre to remember Irena Sendler, the Polish Catholic who saved some 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of Warsaw’s ghetto.
The concert, titled “Irena’s Song: A Ray of Light through the Darkness,” featured acclaimed Israeli composer and conductor Kobi Oshrat and Israeli vocalist Karin Shifrin. The pair collaborated with the Australian Orchestra Victoria to remember the heroine through music.
The 20-minute piece performed by Oshrat, Shifrin and the orchestra, was written as a collage of the life of Sendler and a tribute to her courage.
The night featured guest speakers and the support of both Israeli and Polish guests of honor, including the ambassadors of both countries. Sendler’s daughter also appeared in a video address, adding personal experiences of her mother to the evening.
Sendler led an underground group of women who helped to smuggle Jewish children out of Warsaw’s ghetto and into the safety of homes and convents. She often hid the children in trash cans, coffins, tool boxes or other creative locations to get them to safety.
In order to reunite the children with their families after the war, Sendler buried coded records of the children’s names, aliases and locations in jars under her neighbor’s apple trees. Rescuing Jews was punishable by death in Poland, however Sendler did not reveal the children’s locations, even after interrogation.
Although captured, imprisoned and tortured by the Gestapo, Sendler was rescued by her underground network “Zegota.” While imprisoned, she kept a Divine Mercy holy card that she presented 36 years later as a gift to John Paul II.
She died in 2008 at the age of 98 after being recognized for her courageous acts during the war. She was nominated for several Nobel Peace Prizes and recognized as Righteous Among Nations.
The guest speakers and musical performances highlighted virtues that Sendler lived by: love, humility and tolerance. The heroine will be remembered for her courage and sacrifice to save the lives of many Jewish children.