(Photo credit: East News Poland)
Irena Sendler was raised in a home of compassion. Her father was a doctor, and her mother was a social worker. Her father died of Typhus, which he contracted by caring for the Jewish patients that his fellow doctors refused to treat.
When the Nazis occupied Poland, the Jews of Warsaw were confined to a ghetto. Because there were so many people in such a small area, disease began to spread. Worried that the diseases would kill Germans too, Irena was allowed in and out of the tightly guarded camp to distribute medicines and vaccinations.
She smuggled the Jewish children out of the ghetto in boxes and bags in the back of delivery trucks and ambulances. Hopeful that the children could reunite with their families after the war was over, she kept records of the children’s names, and their new identities, on tissue paper that she put in glass jars and buried in the yard. Unfortunately, many of the parents of the smuggled children were killed.
(Photo credit:Mariusz Kubik)
When the Nazis caught Irena they did not find the records. In fact, they mistakenly thought she was working alone, and not the leader of a well-organized team that had saved the lives of over 2,500 children. She was sentenced to death but escaped execution only after she was beaten and, with her arms and legs broken, she was left for dead in a vacant field, where her team rescued her. She spent the rest of the war working to help save Jewish children in secret under an assumed name.
Irena, who died in May 2008 at the age of 98 in Warsaw, Poland, is my hero. She is an example of pure religion, “to visit the fatherless in their affliction.”
I believe that Irena Sendler is an example of the “Caring” pillar of character. She was truly concerned for the welfare of others and felt the pain of the Jewish families in the Warsaw ghetto with great empathy.
Page created on 9/24/2008 12:00:00 AM
Last edited 1/6/2017 6:01:20 PM
The NY Times - "Irena Sendler, Lifeline to Young Jews, Is Dead at 98" by Dennis Hevesi
Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project - In the fall of 1999, a rural Kansas teacher encouraged four students to work on a year long National History Day project which would, among other things, contribute to history learning, teach respect and tolerance.
Jewish Virtual Library - A biography of Irena Sendler
“I’m no heroine. I only did what any moral person would do,” Irena Sendler protested with understated modesty. “I simply tried to help the people in need.”
Irena Sendler, the 94-year old lady in a Warsaw nursing home, was talking to a group of American educators touring Holocaust-related sites in Poland. After their visit, the group declared that the highlight of their tour was the encounter with Irena Sendler, who had risked her life to save 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazi murder machine, more than twice as many lives then the celebrated Oskar Schindler!
How did she do it? Employed in the social welfare department of the Warsaw municipality, Irena received a special permit to enter the ghetto at all times, ostensibly for the purpose of combating contagious diseases. This gave her the opportunity to provide many Jews with clothing, medicine, and money. On the streets of the ghetto Irena Sendler wore an armband with the yellow Star of David, in order to show solidarity with the Jewish inhabitants and to move about undetected.
When at the end of the summer in 1942, Irena was asked to join Zegota, the Polish Council for Aid to Jews, she already had a widespread network of contacts in place, both in the ghetto and on the “Aryan” side. This underground network made it possible for Irena to smuggle Jewish children out of the ghetto and find secure places for them with Polish families in the Warsaw region.
Irena kept a dog that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. The soldiers, of course, ignored the dog and it’s barking, which successfully overwhelmed the sounds the small children emitted, hiding their presence.
What’s more, Ms. Sendler organized fellow volunteers to take on responsibility for several apartments where Jewish children were sheltered; she herself oversaw ten apartments where Jews were hiding under her care.
Irena kept a record of the names of all the children she had smuggled out, and placed them in a glass jar that she buried under a tree in her back yard.
Was it the work of informers that caused the October 1943 arrest of this righteous woman by the Gestapo and her incarceration in the notorious Pawiak prison for a most ruthless, inhuman interrogation? When repeated brutal torture failed to break her spirit and she refused to reveal the names of her Jewish charges and Polish fellow workers, Irena Sendler was condemned to death.
However, a miracle saved her life: Irena’s underground partners succeeded in bribing one of the Gestapo agents, and on the appointed morning of her execution she was secretly released from prison, her name remaining on the public list of those executed. Although this compelled her to stay out of sight for the remainder of the German occupation, Ms. Sendler was undeterred in her underground activities for Zegota (the Polish Council for Aid to Jews).
After the war, she dug up the jar and made every effort to locate the children’s parents who may have survived. Unfortunately her efforts at reuniting the families failed.
Most parents, grandparents, siblings had been murdered. The little orphaned children Irena helped were placed into foster family homes or adopted.
This remarkable Righteous Gentile died five years ago on May 12, 2008.
A year before her death, Irena Sendler was a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, she lost to her rival, Al Gore, who won for his work on publicizing Global Warming.