Made-for-TV film shot in Rīga airs April 19

A made-for-television movie filmed last year in Rīga, about a Polish woman who saved 2,500 Jewish babies and children from the Warsaw Ghetto, premieres April 19 in the United States.

The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler tells the true story of Catholic social worker Irena Sendler, who is credited with organizing an effort to smuggle young Jews out of the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.

The movie, part of the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” series, airs from 9-11 p.m. Eastern and Pacific times on the CBS network, according to a Hallmark press release.

Filming of The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler began during a cold and snowy November in Rīga, which the movie’s creators found offered settings that resembled what Warsaw, Poland, might have looked like 60 years ago.

Sendler was arrested in 1943 by the Gestapo and sentenced to death, but was freed when the Polish resistance movement bribed a guard. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Sendler died at age 98 in May 2008.

Canadian actress Anna Paquin portrays Sendler. The movie also stars Marcia Gay Harden, who plays Sendler’s mother, and Goran Visnjic, who portrays a friend who helps Sendler with the smuggling operation.

About 2,000 Latvian actors and local residents were hired for the production, according to, the Web site of the developer of the Andrejsala district in Rīga, where much of the filming took place. Most prominent is Latvian child actor Sergejs Marčenko, who plays Jasio. But other Latvians are not in leading roles. For example, Jānis Reinis, who played the lead character Mārtiņš in the 2007 feature film Rīgas sargi, appears in The Courageous Heart as an SS officer.

The newspaper Diena reported that filming on the USD 10 million production continued into December. Filming took place in several venues in Old Rīga and Andrejsala. One visitor to the CBS network’s Web site about The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler noted a continuity error: As Sendler leaves a building and bids goodbye to her friend, the blue sign of the modern DnB Nord bank can be seen in the background.

The film is based on the book The Mother of the Holocaust Children by Anna Mieszkowska. Director of the movie is John Kent Harrison.

The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler

Polish social worker Irena Sendler, portrayed by Canadian actress Anna Paquin, leads a Jewish child (Rebecca Windheim) away from German soldiers in a scene filmed in Rīga. (Photo by Erik Heinila, courtesy of Hallmark)

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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