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 (60%) 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
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“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
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“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
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“A beautiful story, beautifully told – at last.”
— The US Review of Books
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“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
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“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
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“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)
Defeated, humiliated and in chaos after W.W. I, Germany is imperiled by leftist revolution and right-wing violence. Ernst Werner Techow, son of a magistrate, a young man of privilege, joins the para-military Free Corps and the murderous Organization C, violent right-wing forces of reaction against the fledgling Weimar democracy. He becomes one of three assassins responsible for the 1922 murder of the highest-ranking Jew in Weimar Germany, Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau. His trial is a world-wide sensation.
Rathenau’s mother’s letter, read aloud before his sentencing, offers him forgiveness “if before an earthly judge he make a full and frank confession of his guilt and before a heavenly one repent.” Her letter becomes the fulcrum of Ernst’s redemption. In prison, he meets the enigmatic Puck and begins a profound reassessment. Throughout, he pursues his childhood sweetheart, Lisa. They are star-crossed lovers, their passion inextinguishable, buffeted by the rising storm of Nazi ascendance. Before the Court of Heaven, historical fiction based on a true story, is a vivid portrayal of Germany from the beginning of the 20th Century to W.W. II, and an immunization against recurrence.
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Advance Readers Copies available upon request for reviewers.
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“Before the Court of Heaven is a compelling work of historical fiction, a novel set in post-World War I Germany and in Europe during the Second World War. Jack Mayer patiently and effectively conveys the political evolution of Ernst Werner Techow, a young, anti-Semitic ultra-nationalist involved in the Freikorps movement and the 1922 assassination of Walter Rathenau, during the interwar years and World War II. Within a detailed historical context of those troubled times in Germany and throughout Europe, Mayer traces that evolution to Techow’s later role as an anti-Nazi and wanted fugitive from the Third Reich in the late 1930s, and in the end as a rescuer of Jews fleeing Nazi persecution and the Holocaust. Among other things, this story is about the highly diverse molds of resistance in the Third Reich, and the varied motives of those relative few who risked their lives to rescue some of its victims. This is an excellent work of historical fiction, one that nevertheless provides the reader with an important and accurate lens into the past.”
- Francis Nicosia, Raul Hilberg DistinguishedProfessor of Holocaust Studies, University of Vermont
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“Before the Court of Heaven is enthralling historical fiction based on the true story and subsequent legends of Ernst Techow, a German assassin turned French legionnaire. Techow is an incredibly well-rounded and flawed character, which makes his transformation over time all the more fascinating. The author’s writing style is, by turns, lively and detail oriented in all the right places. . . . meticulously researched. . . the novel is gtripping from the very first line. This is an immersive, exciting, and often heart-breaking story that will engross any reader . . .”
- Starred - BlueInk Review
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A fully engaging read from beginning to end, "Before the Court of Heaven" is a deftly crafted novel that showcases author Jack Mayer's truly impressive storytelling talents as a novelist. A terrifically entertaining read that is enhanced with close attention to historical detail, "Before the Court of Heaven" is very highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library General Fiction collections.”
- Midwest Book review – Reviewer’s Bookwatch – Feb. 2016
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“Jack Mayer’s powerful historical novel provides a vivid portrait of a decaying democracy and the choices individuals must make in that context and their inevitable unintended consequences. Mayer’s masterful command of the historical details of Weimar Germany’s collapse and his thoughtful rendering of the book’s central characters make this a rewarding and compelling read. The journey of the novel’s protagonist (Ernst Werner Techow) reveals the capacity for evil and good that can exist in one human being, as well as his or her potential for redemption. While set in another place and time, Before the Court of Heaven prompts reflection on contemporary moral challenges. Not to be missed.”
- Allison Stanger, Leng Professor of International Politics and Economics, Middlebury College
2016 IndieReader Discovery Award – 1st Place - Fiction
2015 Nautilus Book Award Winner – Fiction – Silver medal
2016 Finalist – Grand Prize (Eric Hoffer Award) – Fiction
2016 First Horizon Award (Eric Hoffer Award) – Fiction
Foreword Reviews INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award Finalist – Historical Fiction
2015 Mom’s Choice Award - Gold Medal – Historical Fiction
Pinnacle Book Achievement Award - Best Novel Fall 2015
Beverly Hills Book Awards – Finalist – “Faction” - fiction based on true stories.
A Best Indie Book of 2015 – IndieReader (5-stars)
Shelf Unbound – Notable Indie – 2015 Best Indie Books.
Above is a short YouTube video (4:17 min) I made with the help of my friend Win Colwell who is the book designer of LIFE IN A JAR: THE IRENA SENDLER PROJECT. Please send it out to your family and friends so it goes viral. Maybe we can start an epidemic of goodness.