What started as a curiosity over a social media post has turned into an internationally recognized documentary.
Beth Lundy, a senior majoring in journalism and screen studies and history, noticed an image of a woman—Irena Sendler—with the description, “Led a secret operation that saved the lives of 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.”
“I thought, ‘This can’t be true.’ And when a quick search showed me that it was, I wondered why I hadn’t heard about her,” Lundy said. “And then I figured out why. It was very hard to find information on Irena Sendler. I wanted to learn more.”
And so she did.
Her work, Irena Sendler-More than a Footnote, was chosen as an official selection in the “Best Documentary” category in the Talent Factory Student World Awards competition, which is based in Los Angeles. Her 19-minute film is nominated for potential screening at L.A.’s Echo Park Film Center.
“I opened the notification and saw my documentary listed among student filmmaker work from other countries,” she said. “It was exciting to see my work, my film, chosen as one of the best.”
Lundy—who created the film as a senior capstone project—said she’s honored, but learning about Sendler was the most rewarding part of the filmmaking experience.
Sendler, a social worker in her 20s when the Nazis occupied Poland during World War II, exercised her connections and job credentials—and later posed as a health worker—to meet with Jewish families and sneak their children out of the ghetto if the parents wanted. Sendler had fake documentation made for children so they could have new identities with new families or in orphanages; hopeful that the placement was temporary.
“Irena wrote down the child’s Jewish name with the new one so the children could be reunited with their families after the war,” Lundy said. “Very few of the parents did survive the war; but because of Irena, 2,500 children did and so did their real identities. In the face of death—she could have been executed for what she was doing and nearly was—she stood her ground so others could live.”
Lundy did “deep dives” for research, including visiting the POLIN: Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, Poland—where Sendler lived until she died in 2008. She viewed hours of Nazi-produced film reels. She listened to recorded statements from Irena Sendler’s daughter Janka. And she saw the Warsaw ghetto.
“A portion of the wall that segregated the Jewish people still stands. I could see the Aryan side and the Jewish side. And where the wall was missing, they placed a plaque on the ground,” said Lundy, who traveled to Poland for a month-long study abroad experience, which was supported by a gift from Joel Dorfman and family to the Student Study Abroad in Poland Scholarship fund. “I’m not saying it transported me back to World War II, but sites around Warsaw helped me put Irena’s experience into context.”
As she gathered the footage, Lundy—who has been in the banking field for 30 years and works full time while working toward her degree—spent many late night hours assembling the documentary.
Lundy learned she had a knack for storytelling and filmmaking while doing voluntary commercial work for her bank and taking part in a film contest between the mortgage branch managers. In addition to the lunch she won for her coworkers in the contest, she gained a strong interest in filmmaking and wanted to enroll in courses and explore the field.
“I realized that if I could choose to spend my time doing something, this was it. I like my job at the bank, I’m good at it and I plan to retire from there. But what I’ve learned through my professors here will help me do what I really love to do: create to help others,” said Lundy, who is also an assistant director intern at Detroit Public Television.
Lundy, who graduates in April, said her experience on Sendler’s documentary gave her skills, confidence and experience. And it gave her a way to share Sendler’s story.
“We all know about Schindler and his list. And this woman saved twice as many people and is not widely recognized,” Lundy said. “When people hear Irena Sendler I want them to have a positive association and know that she did something great. I wanted to have a part in having her remembered.”