Woman saved hundreds during the Holocaust

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Judy Winnick portrays Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic woman who saved hundreds of Jewish children during the Holocaust, at a presentation at St. Joseph Catholic School in DeWitt on March 20.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DeWITT — For years, teacher-turned-actress Judy Winnick has portrayed a Catholic Polish woman who helped save hundreds of Jewish children during the Holocaust. At the invitation of the Holocaust Education Committee of the Quad Cities, Winnick returns often to portray Irena Sendler for audiences in the Quad Cities and surrounding area.

On March 20, Winnick presented a dramatization of Sendler for students in grades 6-8 at St. Joseph Catholic School, one of several schools at which she performed. It was also open to parishioners of St. Joseph Parish. Winnick is a Holocaust presenter from Colorado who dramatizes Holocaust heroes, said Maxine Russman of the Holocaust Education Committee.

Sendler “saved several-hundred Jewish children by hiding them in her coat when leaving the orphanage where she served as a social worker,” Russman said. After World War II, the Jewish nation declared Sendler  “The Righteous Among Nations.”

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A promotional flier describes Sendler as the “Angel of the Warsaw Ghetto.” She was a leader of the children’s section of Zegata, Council for Aid to Jews, and part of the Polish underground. She is credited with rescuing 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto, but “never thought of herself as a hero, and said she simply did what needed to be done and followed her heart,” the flier states.

Sendler (1910-2008), received many awards for her humanitarian work and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Winnick began portraying extraordinary women from history, such as Sendler, after retiring from teaching in Colorado.

Teacher Demi Franck said when the offer to come to St. Joseph’s was given, “there was no hesitation. It was a yes.”

Franck teaches a unit on the Holocaust in eighth grade. “They had the knowledge about the Holocaust.” The sixth- and seventh-graders have not studied the Holocaust, “but this gave them an opportunity to build their knowledge and learn who stood up for others.”

“I was in awe with this presentation,” Franck said. “The kids had great questions too.”

Franck received a binder of resources from the Holocaust Education Committee, which she will use in addition to “the plethora of information from the teaching truck from the Illinois Holocaust Museum.”


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