Irena Sendler 1910-2008
You know how you read about someone and it gives you goose bumps? This is one of those people. She is hardly ever talked about but maybe after reading her story you will agree with me.
Irena Sendler was Polish and born in Otwock, near Warsaw. Her father was a doctor and spent most of his time treating the poor along with the Jewish population. She was very supportive of his work and she herself, worked as a Senior Administrator in the ‘Warsaw Social Welfare Department.’
Irena found a way to set up canteens in all the surrounding districts of the city to provide meals, clothing and financial aid to the elderly, destitute, poor, and the orphans. This help was extended to the Jewish residents and they were registered under fictitious Christian names as suffering from contagious diseases such as tuberculosis and typhus. Doing this would stop any inspections.
Then in 1942, the Nazis decided to herd hundreds of thousands of Jews into a 16 block area that became known as ‘The Warsaw Ghetto.’ It was then sealed off !
Irena was horrified by this action of the Nazis and so joined the ‘Zegota’ (Council for aid to the Jews).
It was organized by the Polish Underground Resistance Movement. She started helping the Jewish people in the Ghetto by getting a pass from the ‘Warsaw Epidemic Control Department’ so that she could enter legally. She went in to the Ghetto daily, taking clothing, medicine, and food. Her aim was to rescue Jewish children from the Ghetto. As a young mother herself, she was terrified of the future for these children.
Of course, she knew it would be extremely hard to convince parents to let their children go and she did understand that. Finding
families to shelter the children would be difficult, as the sponsors were putting their lives, along with their families’ lives at risk, but she did. Religious establishments, convents and orphanages were also prepared to take many of the children.
Irena had people create hundreds of false documents for the children she wanted to smuggle out, so that they could be used in their new locations. Then came the obstacles of getting them out of the Ghetto.
Irena drove an ambulance in and out of the Ghetto, so this was ideal to smuggle the infants and children out. Some were taken out in gunny sacks, body bags or buried under goods. Others came out in coffins and potato sacks. One baby was smuggled out in the toolbox of a mechanic friend.
She took a dog with her who was trained to bark at the guards. This helped to cover the sound of a crying infant, and also the barking insured they didn’t come close to the ambulance.
There was a church inside the Ghetto that had two entrances; one was inside the Ghetto and one was outside the Ghetto. Jewish children entered the church and left to the outside as Christian children with fake documents.
Irena kept coded books with all the original names of the children, along with their new identities. These books were stored in jars that she buried under an apple tree in the garden belonging to her neighbor. Her code name for the children was Jolanta.
Then disaster struck! On October 20th 1943, Arena was arrested, taken to prison and tortured by the Gestapo. They broke both her
legs and her feet but she did not give up one name of a helper or rescued child. (The damage done to her body left her crippled for the rest of her life).
She was sentenced to death, but at the last minute, the Zegota members managed to unbelievably bribe one of the Gestapo agents to halt the execution. Somehow, with help, she managed to escape from prison and was hunted down by the Nazis for the remainder of the war. They never found, her and she remained in hiding until the war was over.
After the war, Irena dug up her precious jars full of her coded books and reunited families where she could, but most parents had perished in the camps. The children without parents were adopted or fostered over the next few years.
This amazing lady was nominated for the ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ in 2007 but did not receive it. I think that was a terrible shame, but for her, probably no problem. She never needed recognition for what she did, and was often heard as wishing she had rescued more children. But around 2500 children owe her their lives from being smuggled out of the Ghetto.
Her own personal statement ….“Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth and not a title to Glory.” Shows what an incredible lady she was!
I hope this story leaves you with a good feeling about a terrible time in our history. I have a personal interest, as my grandfather was Polish and came to England before the war broke out. He never went back, and after the war, he tried to trace all of his family. Not one of them survived the war in Poland.
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