Kansas school teacher awarded in Warsaw for bringing Holocaust hero Irena Sendler’s story to light


WARSAW, Poland (JTA) – A Kansas school teacher who with his students brought the story of Holocaust hero Irena Sendler to light, was presented in Poland with an award in her honor.

Norman Conard was presented with the 2018 Irena Sendler Memorial Award in Warsaw’s Royal Castle on Monday by Polish Minister of Culture Piotr Gliński and the founder of the Taube Philanthropies foundation based in San Francisco, Tad Taube. Conard is the first American to receive the award, which has been awarded since 2008.

Poland has designated 2018 the Year of Irena Sendler, to mark the 10th anniversary of her death at the age of 98.

Sendler, a Polish social worker, during the Nazi occupation saved hundreds of Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto. However, after World War II she lived in complete oblivion until the discovery of her life story by Conard’s students while working on a history project on unsung heros.

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In fall 1999, Conard encouraged his students from Uniontown, Kansas, a town inhabited by 247 people, to take a closer look at Sendler’s work and present their project in a competition organized for National History Day.

The students presented their work in the form of dramatic play “Life in a Jar” that presents the rescue mission of Sendler. During World War II, Sendler smuggled Jewish children out of the ghetto and placed them in   adoptive Christian families, monasteries and orphanages. She and her helpers buried the names of the children in jars in the hopes that they would one day reunite them with their parents, though most of the parents were murdered by the Nazis.

The play has since been performed 375 times around the world. Movies about her life also have been made.

The award in her name honors those Poles who contribute to the strengthening of Polish-Jewish relations and the preservation of the Polish-Jewish heritage and memory of the Holocaust. On the tenth anniversary of Sendler’s death to commemorate the work of her life, Conard was chosen a special winner of this award, because the project he created – and the great work of his students – brought to light the Sendler’s heroic actions.

“It is a great honor to receive an award from the Taube Philanthropies Foundation and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage,”  Conard said. “Irena Sendler’s life is an example of heroism and courage. Getting to know such an extraordinary person and its history changed my life.” Conard now works as executive director of the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes in Fort Scott, Kansas.

The award was founded in 2008 on the initiative of Taube Philanthropies to commemorate Sendler.