Life in a Jar
The Irena Sendler Project

by Jack Mayer

During World War II, Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker, organized a rescue network of fellow social workers to save 2,500 Jewish children from certain death in the Warsaw ghetto. Incredibly, after the war her heroism, like that of many others, was suppressed by communist Poland and remained virtually unknown for 60 years.

Unknown, that is, until three high school girls from an economically depressed, rural school district in southeast Kansas stumbled upon a tantalizing reference to Sendler’s rescues, which they fashioned into a history project, a play they called Life in a Jar. Their innocent drama was first seen in Kansas, then the Midwest, then New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, and finally Poland, where they elevated Irena Sendler to a national hero, championing her legacy of tolerance and respect for all people.

Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project is a Holocaust history and more. It is the inspirational story of Protestant students from Kansas, each carrying her own painful burden, each called in her own complex way to the history of a Catholic woman who knocked on Jewish doors in the Warsaw ghetto and, in Sendler’s own words, “tried to talk the mothers out of their children.” Inspired by Irena Sendler, they are living examples of the power of one person to change the world and models for young people everywhere.

Sixty percent of the royalties from the sale of Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project are donated to the Irena Sendler/Life in a Jar Foundation. The foundation promotes Irena Sendler’s legacy and encourages educators and students to emulate the project by focusing on unsung heroes in history to teach respect and understanding among all people, regardless of race, religion, or creed.


"While Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project is based on a true story, it reads like a novel. Mayer masterfully and seamlessly weaves together the personal stories of Irena and the students. . . This stimulating book is a story about human decency, courage, and social justice. It will appeal to anyone with an interest in history, as well as teachers of all subjects . . . But it has much wider human-interest appeal as well, due mostly to Mayer’s extensive primary-source research, which includes several personal interviews. He reveals the inner thoughts of the people involved—their joys, struggles, and fears—pulling the reader in on an emotional level early on and sustaining that interest throughout the book. 

Through this powerful book, Mayer continues the girls’ effort by telling Irena’s story to a wider audience, and further illustrating how one person can potentially change the lives of so many."

— ForeWord Clarion Review

“Kansas teenagers rediscover a forgotten Holocaust heroine in this moving historical drama. . . Mayer’s superb novelization of her exploits elevates social work to the intensity of a spy thriller. . . Writing in vivid but restrained prose, Mayer describes this agonizing situation with understated pathos. . . his rendition of Irena’s story has an inspirational power of its own.  A gripping real-life tale of extraordinary courage that had an enduring impact.”

— Kirkus Review

“Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project is an extraordinary story of heroism during the Holocaust, and its transformative role in the lives of three high school students in contemporary Kansas. It is based on the true but little-known story of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic rescuer of Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto, and of the young students in Kansas who rescued this history. Jack Mayer masterfully weaves these two separate but intimately connected stories into one larger saga that provides us with a unique lens into the Holocaust and its meaning and relevance in today’s world. It will inspire all who read it, especially the young.”

 — Professor Francis R. Nicosia
 Raul Hilberg Distinguished Professor
 of Holocaust Studies, University of Vermont

“Jack Mayer has done a remarkable job in bringing to life the heroic figure of Irena Sendler, whose noble legacy seems to have reached into unlikely places with affecting and unpredictable results. Meticulously researched, this story has been told with grace and passion by Mayer, who brings a wealth of compassion to his book.”

— Jay Parini, author of The Last Station

“A beautiful story, beautifully told – at last.”

— The US Review of Books

“The monument to Irena Sendler was raised neither in Poland nor in Israel, but in the hearts and deeds of young Americans. Jack Mayer’s inspiring book brings to life the true story of high school students in Uniontown, Kansas and a Polish Holocaust rescuer. The teens conceived the theatrical performance called Life in a Jar. Their message was simple: one who goes against evil and rescues goodness, changes the world.”

 — Jacek Leociak, Polish Academy of Sciences, 
author of The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City (with Barbara Engelking), and Glances at the Warsaw Ghetto

“This is a story of history rescued.  It rekindles our faith in humanity.  Every high school student and teacher should read this book.  We all should.”

 — Michele Forman
National Teacher of the Year 2001  

“This story of courage, hope, and determination was born in the flaming hatred of Nazi-occupied Poland, was buried and lost amongst the rubble and ashes of post-war Warsaw, was uncovered and illuminated by three mid-western teens and finally, was given wings of words by a Vermont pediatrician, so that it might circle the world and touch minds and hearts with the message that you are never too small or too young to redeem mankind. ”

— Steven Koller, MD


2013 - Polish (AMF Plus Group, Warsaw Poland)
2013 - Chinese (Oriental Press, Beijing, China)
2013 - Russian (Eksmo, Moscow, Russia)
2016 - Mongolian (Undram Mergen, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia) 

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Literary Awards

  • 2015 - First Horizon Award - Non-fiction (Eric Hoffer Book Award)
  • 2015 - Mom’s Choice Award – Gold Medal - Young Adult
  • 2015 – IPNE (Independent Book Publishers of New England) Book Award -   Winner – Book presentation and marketing
  • 2014 -  Readers’ Favorite Book Award – Gold Medal - Education
  • 2014 - Benjamin Franklin Digital Award – Silver Honoree
  • 2014 - Shelf Unbound Notable Book
  • 2012 -  IndieReader Discovery Award - Biography
  • 2011 - Kansas Notable Book Award
  • 2011 - da Vinci Eye (Eric Hoffer Book Award)

Interview with the Author