In Warsaw, Poland, there is an ordinary old lady Elena Sundler, who is almost ninety years old. On this day, her son Adam died of heart failure.
Meanwhile, at a rural high school in Kansas, on the other side of the globe, a history teacher started preparing a study with his students.
Every year, there is an important event for those history-loving children around the world-National History Memorial Day. This activity started in 1974 and has continued to evolve since then. At present, nearly one million children from grades 6 to 12 participate in the National History Memorial Competition to explore the world in which they live.
Norman Connard is a history teacher at Uniontown High School in Kansas. He encouraged students to think independently and explore the unknown. His motto in the classroom is: “Helping individuals change is helping the world change.” On September 23, 1999, he encouraged three students to participate in this one-year National History Memorial Competition. He advised the students: look for the little-known heroes in history.
The students were all girls. They were Meghan Stewart in grade 9, Elizabeth Campus, and Sabrina Koons in grade 11. Connold gave them a magazine with a short report called “Other Schindler” with Elena Sundler’s name and a short sentence: She was from 1942 to 1943 More than 2,500 children were saved in the Warsaw Jewish Quarter.
Neither Connell nor these children thought it was impossible. Connard even said, “This may just be a typographical error.”
“Schindler saved 1,100 Jews. If Sundler saved 2,500, why has no one ever heard her name?”
Three girls accepted the topic and started searching online for Elena Sundler. In 1999, the Internet has begun to spread. Searching the world’s records, they found only one piece of information about Sundler from a website: the Jewish Justice Foundation. They emailed the Foundation to confirm that the number of 2,500 people was correct, but they could not find any other information about Sundler.
Over the next few months, three middle school students continued their search. Later, several students joined their research group one after another. The children used school and weekends to go to the archives and libraries to find all kinds of information about World War II. They even checked all the lists of the World War II monuments in hopes of finding the final resting place of Sundler.
As they searched step by step, a great history that was buried was revealed little by little.
On February 15, 1910, Elena Sundler was born in Warsaw, Poland. His father was a doctor. Typhoid fever broke out when she was 7 years old, and many doctors refused to treat typhoid patients because of fear of being infected. Only Sundler’s father stood up. Her father was unfortunately infected for treating typhoid patients and died shortly after. My father told her before his death: If you see someone drowning, you should try to save him even if you can’t swim.
It was this simple word, and the spirit of his father’s self-denial and salvation that influenced Sundler’s life. After growing up, she followed her father’s footsteps and became a nurse at the Warsaw Social Relief Agency.
In September 1939, Germany attacked Warsaw, Poland, and nearly 500,000 Jews, one-third of the city’s population, were isolated in the size of Central Park, New York. Because of her status as a nurse, Sundler had a pass to and from the Jewish quarter. So she used her job cover to continue to provide Jews with scarce clothes, food and medicine.
The situation in the quarantine area was getting worse and worse. By 1942, Jews were driven into concentration camps and faced the danger of death every day. Faced with the grim situation, Sundler and several companions established a “network” to help Jewish children escape.
For 18 months in a row, they risked their lives every day, going back and forth to the concentration camp several times to cover a few children and leave.
However, many Jewish parents dare not let them take their children away. The first question they asked was: Is there any guarantee to keep the child alive? Sundler can only answer truthfully: no. Because she didn’t even know if she could leave the quarantine alive.
Some parents asked them to take their children away, while others told them to come back in a few days. However, when they returned, many families were sent to the death camp.
In this way, Sundler hid more than 2,500 Jewish children under a stretcher or in garbage bags, suitcases, corpses, and even disguised some children as having infectious diseases. To the Catholic Church. For some older children, she tried to let them escape from the sewers and wall holes.
The children who escaped were sent to orphanages, monasteries, or civilian families willing to help the Jews.
Even children who were fortunate to be rescued still faced death threats at a time when everyone in Warsaw City was at risk, and cruel whistleblowers were everywhere. The Gestapo searched every day for Jews who escaped from the quarantine zone.
In order to keep these hard-working children rescued, Sundler and her companions rushed to produce 3,000 fake documents in a few days and nights, including a Catholic birth certificate signed by a priest and an identity card signed by a senior official.
However, this alone is not enough. She asked the children to meditate on the new name and new habits a hundred times, or even a thousand times, and teach them simple prayers so as not to make mistakes during the inspection by the Gestapo.
Jews do not have Catholic prayers, which is also a way for the Nazis to determine whether a child is a Jewish child. Every child walking on the street may be questioned at any time, and if not prayed, he will be executed immediately.
Warsaw at the time was a crime of concealing Jews, and even family members were executed, even more so than printing “reactionary newspapers”, transporting weapons, and attempting to subvert Germany.
In the process of saving the children, Sundler created a list of each child’s real name and fake identity so that the children could be reunited with their loved ones in the future. Many names are written on thin napkins.
In October 1943, more than a dozen Gestapos surrounded Sundler’s residence. In a hurry, she stuffed the children’s list with her companions and walked out of the apartment calmly. Her companion hid the list in her underwear and fortunately escaped inspection.
Sundler was put in the infamous Pavac prison and subjected to the harshest torture. But even if her leg bones and foot bones were interrupted, she said nothing. The Nazis reluctantly decided to kill her.
However, members of the Warsaw underground organization bribed the executioner with large sums of cash, and the bribes threw Sundler into the woods, where she was rescued by her companions. The Nazis thought Sundler had been executed, and the next day she was named on the list of people killed by the Gestapo.
The rescued Sundler could only live incognito, but she continued to participate in the rescue of Jews.
During the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, Sundler packed her “Sundler List” into several glass bottles and buried it under an apple tree outside a friend’s apartment, so that after the war, the children on the list and their parents could be included Reunion.
In 1945, the Nazis withdrew from Poland. Sundler dug out the list and gave it to the Polish Jewish Central Committee, hoping to return the children to the surviving parents.
Unfortunately, almost all parents have been killed or disappeared, and only a few children have found their parents.
Since then, for 54 years, due to the obstruction of the Polish government, although organizations such as the Jewish Foundation recognized Sundler’s contribution and presented her with certificates of merit, Sundler was never approved to leave the country. She lives a poverty-stricken life like an ordinary person, and the story of her rescue of more than 2,500 children is almost unknown.
In 1999, 54 years later, several female high school students in Kansas, the United States, began the research under the guidance of history teacher Conrad.
It was September 23, 1999. They didn’t know that not only was the hero Sundler in their hearts alive, but she was suffering the loss of her son.
As the research progressed, Sundler’s heroic behavior deeply infected the children. They tried every means to find Sundler.
In the end, there was incredible news from the Jewish Justice Foundation: Sundler was still alive. She was 90 years old in Warsaw, Poland, and lived in a nursing home.
The children were ecstatic and they began to communicate with Sundler. From Sandler’s mouth, the details of that dusty history were restored little by little.
The children wrote a small drama based on the story of Sundler. The name of the drama is “Life in a Bottle”. Although it was only a short play made by the students themselves, it caused strong local response. There is no Jew in the town where the students live, but the parents organized “Elena Sundler Memorial Day” and “Elena Sundler Memorial Week”. Children were also invited to perform in other regions.
Gradually, national media such as CNN and CBS also started interviewing these students. When the students started performing, they held real bottles to raise money for the survivors of the year.
During a children’s performance, a Jewish businessman from Poland was in the audience. He offered to raise money for the children so that they could visit Sundler in Warsaw. In less than 24 hours, the fare to Warsaw was raised.
In May 2001, history teacher Conrad, three female students, and several parents rushed to Warsaw.
At the time, the elderly Sundler was living in a nursing home in Warsaw and was in a wheelchair, and had difficulty moving. However, the excitement and joy of the meeting between the two parties could hardly be expressed in words. The children saw heroes they had been beloved for two years, and Sundler called these girls “my dear children.”
This historic meeting was widely reported by the American media and attracted worldwide attention. In this way, under the pursuit of three female middle school students, Sundler’s dusty past was revived. Her superhuman courage and wisdom not only moved Americans, but also made Poland rediscover its hero.
Sundler also received various belated honors.
The Polish president and wife went to the nursing home to see her in person.
In 2003, Pope Paul II personally wrote to Sendler, praising her for her extraordinary efforts during the war.
In October 2003, she was awarded the Polish Highest Honor White Eagle Award, and her image was also printed on the 2009 Polish commemorative silver coin.
On July 30, 2006, 96-year-old Sundler received a medal of honor at a commemorative ceremony in Munich, Germany. Many of the people who attended the ceremony were Jewish children she rescued that year.
Among them, Ms. Erzbietta Fikovska was a baby rescued by Sundler, when she was only 5 months old. “Ms. Sundler saved not only us but also our children and grandchildren,” she said.
In 2007 and 2008, Sundler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for two consecutive years.
On May 12, 2008, 98-year-old Elena Sundler quietly finished her life in Poland. At the time, the media referred to her as a “female Schindler.”
A passage before her death moved countless people: “I never saw myself as a hero. Those Jewish children rescued have proved my worth in the world, but this is not a reason to praise. Instead, I am always condemned by conscience. I have not done enough. Maybe I can save more people. This regret will accompany me throughout my life. ”
Today, Poland, Germany and other places have streets and memorials named after Sundler. Many primary and secondary schools are also named after her.
What is education? Education is to use one life to move another.
What is history? History is not that little girl who can be arbitrarily dressed, not accumulation of historical materials, but constant dialogue between the past and reality.
The story of Sundler and these American high school girls profoundly explains the true meaning of education and history. Who would have thought that a small research project in high school history class would have such a big impact on the world.
The children of that year collected a total of 4,000 pages of information for this study!
In 2000, their research results won first place in the “National Memorial Day Contest” in Kansas and were given the opportunity to go to Washington, DC.
They, and their successors later, went to Poland six times to interview Sundler and the survivors of that year, and successively found 650 children who were rescued by Sundler that year!
Now, from 1999 to 2019, exactly 20 years have passed. The little drama “Life in a Bottle” arranged by students at that time was only 10 minutes, and has now expanded into a 100-minute complete drama. The main role is still played by the children of Uniontown High School.
Over the past 20 years, the show has been performed in nearly 400 shows in the United States and in many countries around the world.
Twenty years ago, when a few girls just started looking for Sundler, there was only one entry on the Internet about her, and today there are more than 500,000 messages about her.
There are also many books about her, including “Life in a Bottle-Elena Sundler Project”, which has occupied the top of the list for 7 years! It has also been translated into Chinese.
Her deeds have also been made into many documentaries and TV series.
Just last month, Warner Bros. Pictures announced that it would invest in a film about Sundler, starring the famous Israeli actress Gal Gadot. She has become a front-line star in Hollywood for Wonder Woman.
It is conceivable that when this film is released, Sundler’s name and heroic behavior will be more widely recognized. “Sundler’s List” finally has an opportunity comparable to “Schindler’s List”.
Never underestimate the impact of education and never underestimate the potential of children.
Sundler once said to the high school girls in a letter:
“My comrades-in-arms have passed away, so these honors have fallen on me. It is you, who let my own country and the world know the bravery of those rescuers, and I cannot express my gratitude to you. In you Until the day when “Life in a Bottle” was written, the world didn’t know our story; your performance and efforts will continue the work I started more than 50 years ago. You are my dear ones. ”
On May 3, 2008, Kansas students visited Sundler for the sixth time. The last sentence she said was: “You changed Poland, you changed the United States, and you changed the world. I love you very much.”
A few days later, Sundler died peacefully, leaving a touching legend to the world.
There is one brave fighter in the world, Sundler, but there are countless children who are curious about history and explore. In 2019, the theme of “National Memorial Day” is “victory and tragedy in history”. The theme for 2020 is “Breaking through historical barriers.” At present, children who love history around the world are conducting various researches on this topic.
I know that at this moment, somewhere in the world, there will be an interesting and charming history teacher, and there will be a group of students with wide-eyed and focused expressions.
This is how the inheritance of history continues.