Thursday, February 20, 2014

Layered Learning

A few weeks ago my father had posted on his Facebook account about a woman named Irena Sendler who was passed over for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize when it was awarded to Al Gore for his work on climate change.  After spending time learning about this amazing woman, I am baffled that someone who saved the lives of 2,000 Jewish children would be passed over in favor of someone who made a movie about climate change when many in the scientific community do not feel there is sufficient evidence to prove this theory and data was falsified by those pushing for its acceptance.  2,000 human lives vs. a movie.  I guess I should not be surprised since this is the same culture that places crazy penalties for destroying an eagle egg but places no value on a  human embryo or fetus.  Search bacteria on Mars as proof of life, and link after link will come up verifying that yes bacteria = life, but here on Earth, a fertilized egg is not considered life.  Nope.  No harm in destroying that.  Our priorities are clearly not where they should be.....

PBS made a documentary titled Irena Sendler: In The Name of Their Mothers.  It is available on Amazon for $12.00.  I ordered it and to be honest, it sat on my tv stand unopened for about two weeks until sickness hit our home and it seemed like the perfect time to watch it.

About half way through, Dr. Janusz Korczak was mentioned.  He was a Polish doctor who established an orphanage in 1912 and during the German occupation in 1939 moved his orphanage into the ghetto and turned down many offers to be smuggled out because he would not leave his children.  He did assist in the efforts to smuggle many children out, partnering with Irena and her network of volunteers.  On August 5, 1942 Dr. Korczak and 200 of his orphans and staff members were sent to Treblinka, where they were put to death.    

At this point Lilah asked us to pause the documentary and she ran to get our book club book, a book I did not select, a book recommended to me by my friend, a book I have never read, called Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli.  A book that happens to be about the Warsaw ghetto and a group of orphan Jewish boys trying to survive.  Coincidence? No way.  She flipped open the books and leafed through the pages until she found the character, Dr. Korczak.   Coincidence?  No way.  She is a bit ahead of Grace and I.  We have not yet met him in the story.  I do know that they boys were in a graveyard and spotted an angel statue.  Dr. Korczak will be featured in the capacity of the boys “angel”.  

Not too long ago, I was standing in the New Britain Museum of American Art looking at a Maurice Sendak exhibit blown away by his connection to Theresienstadt concentration camp, which we had learned about from the book Hannah’s Suitcase, with goosebumps running up and down my arms.  This was a similar experience.  Not planned.  Entirely coincidental, but yet not coincidental at all.  Some people call these rabbit holes.  You enter and you never know what you may find, but I have never once used this term. I don’t believe in “rabbit holes”.  I think that true education is interwoven as tightly as a piece of fabric.  It overlaps and one piece of knowledge is directly related to another, to another and to another.  Pull one string and it all unravels.  You may never get to the end.  Every question just leads to another question.  There is no chapter summary with this kind of learning.  

When this book club has met and we have moved on to our next read, I will sit down and create a web of where this study has taken us, from the very beginning, with Hannah’s Suitcase, a simple audiobook I choose primarily because it was non-fiction and it was short.  We have drawn connections to the Irish Potato famine, to Maurice Sendak, to Jerry Spinelli, Irena Sendler, to Number the Stars, to Sound of Music, to Quinnipiac University and most amazingly to our own family.

I have a relative on my fathers side that was involved in the Russian occupation of Poland in the 1800s, Jan "John" Francis Kokernak 1852-1948.

Jan was studying to become a priest but left the seminary to follow his hearts desire to help liberate his homeland.  When he was 16 he was actively participating in the resistance, was captured and sentenced to six months in a Warsaw dungeon.  Upon his release he went back to the resistance and was recaptured, tortured and sent to a work camp in Siberia for three years.  En route to Siberia he escaped and traveled back home to Poland. In 1863 he survived the Battle of Cyk, in which many of his companions died.  His family was forced to leave their homeland or face death at the hands of the Russian forces.  He and his wife Josephine split their children up, evacuated and emigrated to the United States and settled in Massachusetts.  My relative returned to Poland after WWII and showed the Polish government where war heroes were buried.  Those bodies were exhumed and given a full military burial and had a monument erected in their honor.  Sounds like a movie, but it is reality, and begs us to ask ourselves the question “What would we do?”  

Would we be brave enough?
Would we have enough conviction?
Would we risk our family to save another?
Would we say yes?
Would we walk away?


dstb said...

Love this post!
If you don't mind, there are two books that you might find interesting:
"The Endless Steppe" by Esther Hautzig is an autobiography of a Polish girl who is exiled to Siberia with her family. One of those books I tracked down as an adult after having read it as a kid.
"Between Shades of Gray" by Ruta Sepetys. This book is more recently published and is similar to The Endless Steppe, but is a novel about a Lithuanian family forcibly removed to Siberia.
Both of these take place during the WWII time frame. Both are meant for children.

Oh, okay, one more book that I absolutely loved as a kid:
"North to Freedom" (now called "I am David") by Anne Holm. This one tells the story of a boy who escapes a concentration camp (I think it is in Eastern Europe and is a Soviet camp) and travels to safety in Denmark. I don't know the exact timing of this, but I read somewhere that it is set possibly during the Cold War (1952) and that the location of the Concentration Camp might be Bulgaria. It could be an interesting exercise to look for clues as you read to try and figure it out. It would also make a good one to kind of follow along on a map and see how he gets where he's going. (There is also a movie, but I am not sure that I have seen it, so you'll have to judge for yourself).

I love to hear about all the connections you make as you learn. Fantastic!


Diane said...

Great post Jessica! That is a very interesting heritage to have and to have so many of the details is incredible.

i said...

Thank you for all the great info. I will be checking them out. WE are studying WWII too and I watched with my DD11 a movie called "The boy in the striped pajamas". It's available on Netflix and shows the German side of the war - the struggles that some of the members of the German officers went through. It has a sad and unexpected ending but it's very good. Well done movie. Other interesting movies we watched were showcasing the human side of the soldiers that fought in the war. In the end we are all the same: being driven by fear if not love. "Into the White" and "The Way BAck" are two of those movies. We did not watch the last 2 with our kids. They contained some graphic violence and disturbing scenes.

dstb said...

I didn't watch "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas", but I read the book. I wonder if this is one of those rare cases where the movie is actually better. It has been awhile since I read the book (and I am terrible at remembering details once I am done), but I found it hard to believe that a 9-yo German boy (whose father is the new director of Auschwitz) does not know what a concentration camp is or what a Jew is and he can't even pronounce F├╝hrer (I think he calls him the Fury). Perhaps, if the boy was 4 or 5 years old, it would make a little more sense, but as it was, I was actually kind of offended. But, like I said, I didn't watch the movie.


dstb said...

Have you ever read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom? It is the true story of the Dutch ten Boom family, who hid Jews during the Nazi occupation. Very powerful. I believe we were able to get an audiobook through inter-library loan and listened in the car.


Jessica said...

No....I have not heard of this book. I will add it to my wish list. Thank you!

Jessica said...

I read it years ago when it was given to me. There are so many great books out there and I knew of none other than The Diary of Anne Frank when I was a child, and that was not required reading. My hope is that over the next few years my girls are exposed to so many books that they would not ordinarily pick up on their own and learn so much from the experience of reading.

Jessica said...

I only have access to this because a relative of mine does exhaustive genealogy on It is such a blessing to know our history and be able to access it.

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