Names in a Jar

Jen­nifer Gold

  • Review
By – December 27, 2021

Names in a Jar by Jen­nifer Gold is a his­tor­i­cal fic­tion book with events based on the sto­ry of Ire­na Sendler, a Pol­ish nurse and social work­er who saved thou­sands of chil­dren by smug­gling them out of the War­saw Ghet­to. The sto­ry is told from the per­spec­tive of Anna, a child she saves, and her sis­ter Lina, who helps her escape the ghetto.

The sto­ry begins with a pro­logue, so it is clear from the out­set that Anna sur­vives the war. Each chap­ter alter­nates between Anna’s voice and Lina’s voice. Their his­to­ry unfolds as we learn more about how they are liv­ing right before the war begins.

When they are forced to go to the War­saw Ghet­to, Anna finds a way to become a smug­gler. Although the work is excep­tion­al­ly dan­ger­ous, she and her fam­i­ly know that it is nec­es­sary for sur­vival. It is through her smug­gling work that she meets Ire­na Sendler, called Jolan­ta in the sto­ry. While try­ing to help a new­born get smug­gled out, Anna is smug­gled out as well, against her wish­es. Anna and the baby end up in the coun­try­side as the chil­dren of a child­less cou­ple. Her sto­ry con­tin­ues as a Jew who is hid­ing her iden­ti­ty, even from those clos­est to her, and as a per­son who encoun­ters Nazis in the town.

Lina becomes a forg­er, help­ing oth­er chil­dren get smug­gled out of the ghet­to. Even­tu­al­ly, she is trans­port­ed to Tre­blin­ka. The jour­ney by cat­tle car, the infa­mous camp show­ers, and life in the camp are not glossed over. The sto­ry does not sim­ply allude to events or sug­ar­coat them in any way. It is filled with dra­mat­ic moments great and small. The book includes sev­er­al deaths and mur­ders, a rape, a self-inflict­ed abor­tion, and inci­dents of both same-sex and het­ero­sex­u­al encounters.

Although this sto­ry is fic­tion­al­ized, many of the events in this sto­ry did hap­pen to peo­ple dur­ing the Holo­caust. It includes many actu­al hor­rors of the war and may be a dif­fi­cult read for some read­ers, so some dis­cus­sion before read­ing the book may be warranted.

The sto­ry ends on a pos­i­tive note, many years after the war has end­ed. Anna and Lina have moved to Israel as they had hoped to do and man­aged to build the lives they had dreamed of for so long. Ulti­mate­ly, the sto­ry is not just of the hor­rors that Anna and Lina endured but is a tale of their sur­vival and of those who helped them survive.

Cindy Wiesel is an Eng­lish teacher in Israel and leads a week­ly book club for adults. She has edit­ed teacher resource mate­ri­als and served as a col­lec­tion advi­sor to school libraries.

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