Megan Felt is one of the creators of Life in a Jar, the play that brought attention to the acts of Irena Sendlerowa during World War II. She still performs in the play eight years later. She was recently instrumental in the opening of The Lowell Milken Center that urges students and teachers to create multicultural awareness projects of their own. She was quoted in today’s Kansas City Star as part of their front page article and poll on Irena. You can read much more at the Irena Sendler Project website. As everyone involved in the project waits to hear whether Irena wins the Nobel Peace Prize tomorrow, I was able to ask Megan a few questions. I think you’ll see that heroism is contagious.
I read that you were one of four students asked to work on a National History Day project. How were those four students chosen?
Mr. Conard had a big National History Day kick off each year at Uniontown High School. Students would go into his history class and hear about the projects done in years past. If students were interested they were to sign up on a sheet of paper that was passed around the room. The paper was divided into the different categories that students could participate in. Students were supposed to pick the section they thought they wanted to be involved with. If students were not interested in participating that was fine. NHD is an extra-curricular activity like playing basketball for the school. I signed up to do a group performance and several days later Elizabeth Cambers asked me if I wanted to be in a group with her and Sabrina Coons-Murphy. Jessica Shelton-Ripper was added later because we needed more people in the presentation and she had been following the project and our research form the beginning.
Can you tell me a little bit about the process in creating the project after Mr. Conard showed you the newspaper clipping? How did you find out more information?
We did an internet search but only had two sites pop up, and they were both connected to the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. We tried to find all the primary information we could from other survivors and rescuer’s stories. We were able to write the script from the research we had done. We continue to re-write the script every year and add in more of Irena’s words. When we started the performance had to be under 10 minutes. Today the performance is around 30 minutes and the entire presentation is a little over an hour.
During your research what were the heroic traits of Irena that really stuck out to you? The things that make a hero are very much a regular discussion point in the Hero Workshop.
Irena’s story was not known to the world partly because she is so humble and gives credit to her collaborators. She will not take any credit for her work. We told her on our first trip to Poland that she was our hero. Her response was, “I am no hero. Heroes do extraordinary things. I did what anyone else would have done.” Her parents taught her that if you see someone drowning in a river you have to jump in and save them no matter what, even if you do not know how to swim. She still lives by that today at the age of 97. She is still changing the world one person at a time. She risked her life almost daily going in and out of the Warsaw Ghetto. She is not even 5 feet tall. She was able to inspire others around her to take up the cause and save Jewish children, adults, and families.
I understand you met Irena in person. How did that come about and can you share a story from that visit?
We were able to take our first trip to Poland in May of 2001. My mother had just gone into remission from her breast cancer several months before. She was able to take the trip with our group. It was truly amazing to have the two most courageous women I knew meet. They both have been such an influential part of my life. It was truly powerful. Since then my mother’s cancer had come back. She passed away June 12, 2006, 9 days after I got married. She made it through the wedding and was so strong. I know she was in so much pain, but never complained or asked why her. These two women have impacted my life in a way I never expected. I will spend each day of my life continuing to share their stories and the trials they have been through and the triumphs they experienced.
What was her reaction to being labeled a hero by some high school students in Kansas?
She could not believe that people in Kansas cared about her story or the Holocaust. Irena was interested to hear that schools in the United States study the Holocaust. She thought it was great that students were willing to take a stand for what they believed in. We have developed a close relationship with Irena that is truly special.
Having met Irena now, are there any other attributes that you didn’t see in your research?
I did not realize how humble she actually is. We have had many questions about her life and what she did and how she was able to do it, but she will never talk about her acts. She will only give credit to those that helped her. She will have other meetings set up for us with other rescuers and survivors to tell us about Irena and her life. After meeting us she now decorates her room in sunflowers, which is Kansas’ state flower.
Can you tell me more about what you do at schools with the Life In a Jar presentations? What are some of the best projects you’ve seen inspired by the Foundation?
We do presentations for schools, but most of our “Life in a Jar” presentations are usually for civic groups or churches. However, when we do a presentation at a school we find a way to connect with the students to try and touch their lives personally. We have been students ourselves and are close to their age. We feel we can connect with them on a different level than than the level their teachers are able to reach them on. Our foundation, The Lowell Milken Center, has only been in operation for almost two months, but we have many teachers and students that are eager to learn and research. We are now developing projects in Ireland, Germany, Israel, Minnesota, West Virginia, and Las Vegas; we also have other states and countries we are working with as well. We are also working with some students in Montreal that want to perform our play “Life in a Jar.” We are working with them on their re-enactment of the performance.
How have your experiences with this over the last eight years shaped you?
I started college with a goal of receiving a Doctorate of Pharmacy degree from the University of Kansas. I soon realized that I would not be much help in a foundation with that degree. I then changed my major to more fit my position I was hoping to have at a foundation some day. Our dream came true this year. We have opened the Lowell Milken Center located in Fort Scott, Kansas. We work with teachers and students all over the world helping them create projects that teach respect and understanding for all people. She has taught me to have confidence in myself and to stand up for what I believe in. We all have a desire to fight injustice in the world. We feel we are able to change one person at a time and a ripple effect will be created. Those we have changed will continue to change others.