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what’s in a meme?

January 25, 2013

My friend Gordon recently e-mailed me about Irena Sendler, a Polish woman active in the Nazi Resistance during World War II.  She was allowed to enter the Warsaw Ghetto as a social worker to check for signs of typhus; and daily risked her life to smuggle out infants and children, about 2500 of them.

It’s a riveting story, chronicled in the 2009 Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, which was based on a play written by four high school girls from Uniontown, Kansas.  There is also a 2011 documentary about her, Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers.

All due respect to the heroic Ms. Sendler.  But what I wanted to focus on was how easily verifiable facts like this can be hijacked for unrelated reasons.  The e-mail Gordon sent was a Snopes item clarifying a chain e-mail about Sendler.  We had received that one just before Gordon’s.

This particular permutation of Sendler’s dramatic life had been distorted for the anonymous author’s own purposes.  It tells of a dog she trained to bark when it saw Nazis, to cover the sounds of the children.  Nice touch, but no other source I read mentioned the canine.

The e-mail also contends that Sendler was nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, but lost.  That could be, allows Snopes, but the name of the nominees are not released for 50 years, according to the Nobel Committee’s official website.  Nonetheless, an epilogue to “Courageous Heart” also claims this.

Then the nameless author launches into his/her/their agenda: “Al Gore won, for a slide show on Global Warming.  Later another politician, Barack Obama, won for his work as a community organizer for ACORN.”  Wrong.  Gore won for his work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control.  His 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth won an Oscar, not bad for a slide show.  Obama won his Nobel Prize for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between people”.  He never worked for ACORN.

A few days ago we received the e-mail from another friend.  The person who had sent it to her had added “(Sendler) was very brave.  I wonder what she thought of the 55,000,000 babies aborted in the US in the last 40 years after she risked her life to save babies?”

I rue the liberties people take with the memories of others.  Larry Ward, who organized last week’s Gun Appreciation Day, speculated that Dr. Martin Luther King would have endorsed it.  I will now fall speechless.

  1. January 25, 2013 4:11 pm

    I wish people would check their facts too. You should see the garbage that goes by facebook but it looks cool so people spread it. I do have to Google Irene though. This is the first I have heard of her

    • January 27, 2013 11:31 am

      Hello, Diane, and welcome to the discussion. You’re spot on about Facebook. I’ve blocked several folks (mostly old high school chums from Louisiana) for posting some reprehensible stuff. I’m all for respectful opposition, but they were throwing up stuff that Fox News wouldn’t even repeat. One of them actually posted a veiled threat to Obama (“He better watch his step.”)

  2. January 26, 2013 6:44 pm

    asshats say what asshats say.. not much you can do but point out that they are asshats. i did a lot of asshat pointing out during the presidental election season. as for the worn out abortion bullshit.. if women do not control their bodies they do not control their life. it is that simple. no man is ever told to do something so important with his body. people are always trying to control womens bodies. there is a site with a very interesting article on rape/violence against women.. i will leave the link here if you would like it.

    • January 27, 2013 11:38 am

      Yes, please do send the link. I laud you for your diligent asshat detection last fall. Pace yourself, though. The rabid right seems to have learned nothing from the outcome. They still want to regulate women’s bodies more than guns.

    • February 4, 2013 9:51 am

      Thank you so much for providing this link. It took me a long time to get through it. Even with its presentation of just the facts, it was really discouraging. I’m glad Solnit ended it with a note of hope.

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