Movie Honors Holocaust Hero Robbed of Nobel Prize

Sunday night, CBS aired the Hallmark Channel presentation of The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, the amazing story of the Polish Roman Catholic nurse and social worker who smuggled thousands of Jewish children to safety from the Warsaw Ghetto.  If the name sounds familiar, it should -- her failed 2007 nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize created quite a stir, particularly in light of who took the honor instead.

Then again, you may already be quite familiar with this woman's incredible accomplishments. After all, before being captured by the Nazis, Irena Sendler managed to deliver 2,500 children and infants to Polish Catholic families who kept them from the gas chambers by raising them as though their own.  She even supplied the false documents necessary to sustain the new identities.  Hopelessly optimistic, she actually buried records associating each child's assumed and birth identities in glass jars, hoping to one day reunite children with parents.

But in 1943 she was arrested by the Gestapo, who tortured and beat her to the point of breaking her arms and legs, but never her loyalty to her humane cause.  Refusing to betray accomplices, she was sentenced to die.  Fortunately, by bribing a few German guards, Sendler's underground organization managed to rescue her while keeping her name on Nazi bulletin board execution lists.  Believed dead, she managed to live in hiding until the fall of Berlin, reportedly continuing her work keeping Jewish children out of Hitler's ovens.

After the war she stuck to the plan and unearthed the jars, hoping to return the children to their parents.  But as nearly all of the Ghetto's 400,000-plus population had perished from starvation, disease, random sadistic killings, or mass deportations to the extermination camp at Treblinka, few, if any, such reunions ever took place.  Nonetheless, the fact that she risked her life daily to save thousands from Hitler's Final Solution is nothing short of gallant and that she did so under the scrutiny of the Gestapo is nothing short of momentous.

In 2007 and at the age of 97, the brave and selfless hero was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  Unfortunately, that was the year the award committee reaffirmed its status as political tool of Europe's left, and opted to recognize an American for his work "to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change." 

Of course, that man also suffered tremendous hardships for his work.  During an April 2008 60 Minutes interview with Leslie Stahl, it was revealed that after losing the 2000 presidential election, "his friends said they were worried about him and his state of mind, especially after he gained a lot of weight and grew a beard."  And his wife described the relief she felt when he "lifted himself and our family" from his funk by, as Stahl described it, "turning his old slides that were gathering dust in the basement into that mega-hit documentary."  Such Bravery.

How exactly his "work" or error-ridden sci-fi flick serves to "disseminate greater knowledge" about or "lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract" climate change remains a mystery.  But by naming the United Nations' International Panel on Climate Change as his co-honoree, any doubt that the selection was made with the left's cause du jour in mind rather than the intentions of prize founder Alfred Nobel was surely allayed.  According to the 1895 will of the Swedish scientist, the Peace Prize is to be awarded "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses."

And who better fits that description, the female equivalent of Oscar Schindler or the bloated equivalent of Chicken Little?  One saved the children, the other indoctrinates them.  You be the judge.

There's been motivation speculation ranging from yet another Nobel committee rip at George Bush (Kofi Annan in 2001, Jimmy Carter in 2002 and Mohamed Elbaradei in 2004) to an effort to help inject a certain greenhouse gasbag into the 2008 presidential race. Of course, while any reason other than merit would be unjust, it certainly wouldn't be unprecedented.

But this, on the other hand, may just be.  Months before the winner was announced, Prize Committee chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes may have tipped his hand (as I do my hat to John Ruddick) when he -- perhaps inappropriately -- attended one candidate's global warming speech.  Mjoes joined in the minute-long standing ovation the speaker received, calling it a "very important message," and later told reporters that every citizen "has to involve themselves in how to save the world."  Sure, he claimed to be acting as a private citizen rather than on behalf of the five-member committee when he made the faux pas of publicly praising a prize nominee, but that didn't mitigate the implications.  

Had a deal been struck long before the merits of the other nominees - including Sendler of course -- were ever explored?  And even if not, weren't the committee chairman's words tantamount to a not-so-tacit endorsement, perhaps unfairly predisposing fellow members toward a particular candidate?

Last May, Irena Sendler died of pneumonia in a Warsaw hospital at the age of 98.  And surely the Prize was of little or no consequence to this gentle soul.  Nevertheless - Hallmark's movie reminds us that the charlatan who stole the Nobel Peace Prize from her is truly unfit to have his name mentioned in the same breath as hers.

Or, for that matter, in the same commentary.

Marc Sheppard is the editor of AT's forthcoming Environment Thinker.