Monday, May 18, 2009

Irena Sendler

On May 12, 2008 a 98 year-old lady named Irena Sendler passed away.
Irena Sendler was born in 1910 in Otwock, Poland, a town some 15 miles southeast of Warsaw. She was greatly influenced by her father who was one of the first Polish Socialists. As a doctor his patients were mostly poor Jews.
During WWII, Irena received permission to work in the Warsaw Ghetto. She knew what the Nazi's plans were for the Jews. To be able to enter the Ghetto legally, Irena managed to be issued a pass from Warsaws Epidemic Control Department and she visited the Ghetto daily, reestablished contacts and brought food, medicines and clothing. But 5,000 people were dying a month from starvation and disease in the Ghetto, and she decided to help the Jewish children to get out. Irena smuggled Jewish infants out in many ways; some children were taken out in gunnysacks or body bags. Some were buried inside loads of goods. A mechanic took a baby out in his toolbox. Some kids were carried out in potato sacks, others were placed in coffins, some entered a church in the Ghetto which had two entrances. One entrance opened into the Ghetto, the other opened into the Aryan side of Warsaw. They entered the church as Jews and exited as Christians. "Can you guarantee they will live?" Irena later recalled the distraught parents asking. But she could only guarantee they would die if they stayed. "In my dreams," she said, "I still hear the cries when they left their parents."
She managed to smuggle out and save almost 2,500 children and gave them temporary new identities. Irena kept a record of the names of all she smuggled out. She put them in a glass jar, buried under a tree in her back yard.
The Nazis became aware of Irena's activities, and on October 20, 1943 she was arrested, imprisoned and tortured by the Gestapo, who broke her feet and legs. She ended up in the Pawiak Prison, but no one could break her spirit. Though she was the only one who knew the names and addresses of the families sheltering the Jewish children, she withstood the torture, refusing to betray either her associates or any of the Jewish children in hiding.
Sentenced to death, Irena was saved at the last minute when Zegota members bribed one of the Germans to halt the execution. She escaped from prison but for the rest of the war she was pursued by the Gestapo.
After the war she dug up the jars and used the notes to track down the 2,500 children she placed with adoptive families and to reunite them with relatives scattered across Europe. But most lost their families during the Holocaust in Nazi death camps.
The children had known her only by her code name Jolanta. But years later, after she was honored for her wartime work, her picture appeared in a newspaper. "A man, a painter, telephoned me," said Sendler, "`I remember your face,' he said. `It was you who took me out of the ghetto.' I had many calls like that!"
Irena Sendler did not think of herself as a hero. She claimed no credit for her actions. "I could have done more," she said. "This regret will follow me to my death."


Smilin' sunshine said...

Wow! I can't believe the stories like that.
I finished reading Sarah's Key a couple of weeks ago and loved it. Thanks for the recommendation!

ChefTom said...

Thanks for sharing that. I always wonder how many more people were like Sendler and put everything at risk to help others during such atrocities. There are probably thousands that we will never know about.

Joy said...

As a family we watched a documentary on her a couple weeks ago. It was a learning experence for us all especially for our kids.

LL said...


Jo Jo said...

She did an amazing thing, and thought nothing of it. Hopefully I can be as needed.

Science Teacher Mommy said...

What a fantastic way to start my Monday!

Yankee Girl said...

Just saw the Hallmark movie a couple of weeks ago. What an ispiration to each of us.

Becky said...

and to think that she went to her grave with regrets that she could have done more - WOW!