Not Always As They Seem!
The life of Irena Sendler – a Remembrance Day assembly
by Rebecca Parkinson (revised, originally published in 2009)
Suitable for Whole School (Pri)
To encourage us to appreciate that appearances can be deceptive.
Preparation and materials
Have available the following images and the means to display them during the assembly:
- Irena Sendler, available at: http://tinyurl.com/hbgn7w9
- Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto, available at: http://tinyurl.com/hw2c3hx
- Adults whom Irena Sendler helped as children, available at: http://tinyurl.com/zlybjgt
More information about Irena Sendler’s life is available at: http://www.irenasendler.org/
Show the image of Irena Sendler.
Ask the children to describe what they think she would be like. You may like to make a list of descriptive words.
Ask the children to look at her closely and guess what job she did. Ask the children why they came up with their ideas.
Show the image of Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto.
Ask the children if the image gives them a clue as to Irena’s job.
Remind the children that, at this time of year, we take the time to think about people who have made huge sacrifices to allow us to live in peace. We particularly think about those who gave up so much to fight in the First and Second World Wars.
There are many people who were called heroes in these wars: soldiers, airmen, doctors, nurses and others. The lady we are thinking about today was also a hero, and she was called Irena Sendler.
Irena Sendler was born in Poland in February 1910. She worked as a social worker, but when the Second World War began, she managed to get a job as a plumbing and sewers specialist in the Warsaw Ghetto, where Jewish people lived. She had never understood why the Jewish people should be picked on and she wanted to help them.
Irena knew that it was intended to take Jewish children from their parents and ill-treat them, so she decided to try to rescue them. With their parents’ help, Irena smuggled children out of the Ghetto in her truck, in her tool box or in sacks. She always had a dog with her and she taught it to bark when she entered and left the Ghetto. The barking meant that the soldiers would keep away from her truck, and it also covered up any noise the children might make, if they were upset.
After the children were out of the Ghetto, Irena arranged safe houses in which the children could live. Irena kept records of all the children and families that she helped, but in case the German soldiers came looking for her records, she hid the records in jars and buried the jars under a tree in her back garden.
With the help of a few others, Irena managed to smuggle about 2,500 children out of the Ghetto. During the war, Irena was once caught and questioned and badly treated, but it didn’t stop her carrying on helping others.
After the war, Irena dug up the jars of records and tried to trace the families of all the children she had helped so that they could be reunited and discover their history.
Show the image of adults whom Irena Sendler helped as children.
This image shows Irena in 2005 with some of the children she rescued during the war.
Point out to the children that the ideas they had about this lady when they first saw her photograph were probably a long way from the truth about her life. When we look at people, we shouldn’t judge what they are like by the way that they look. If we do, we are often wrong about them. We need to take the time to get to know people and learn what they are really like.
There is a verse in the Bible (1 Samuel 16.7) that says, ‘People look on the outside, but God looks at the heart.’ Christians believe that God cares more about what we are like on the inside than about how we look.
The image of Irena Sendler that we saw at the beginning of the assembly shows us a sweet old lady, but her life has been the life of a hero.
Time for reflection
Pause for a moment and think about Irena Sendler. Let’s decide in our hearts to love other people like she did and think of others before ourselves.
Thank you for people like Irena Sendler who cared for other people even when it was dangerous.
Please help us to care for those around us.
Please help us to take the time to get to know what people are like on the inside and not judge people by what they look like.
‘When I needed a neighbour’ (Come and Praise, 65)