Thanks to Krum
for his suggestion of today's very worthy heroine.
Irena Sendler was born in 1910 in a small town outside of Warsaw, Poland. Her father was a doctor, who treated mostly poor Jewish patients.
Poland was invaded by the Germans in 1939, and the Nazis began their reign of terror over Poland's Jews. At the time, Sendler was working as a Senior Administrator in the Warsaw Social Welfare Department, providing for the destitute of Warsaw, many of whom were Jewish. Though her agency was prevented by Nazi edict from providing for Jews, Sendler skirted that law by registering many of the Jews she helped under fictitious names.
By 1942, the Jews of Warsaw were confined to the Warsaw ghetto, awaiting deportation to concentration camps and almost certain death. Sendler was so horrified by their treatment that she joined Zegota
, the Council for Aid to Jews, organized by the Polish underground resistance movement. She began to direct the efforts to help Jewish children.
She used her position with the Welfare Department to gain access to the ghetto, getting a pass from the Warsaw Epidemic Control Department. She claimed she was visiting the ghetto to help combat contagious disease, which killed 5,000 people monthly in the ghetto. She smuggled food, medicine, and clothing to ghetto residents on every visit. While there, she wore an armband with a yellow star to show solidarity with the Jews she was helping.
As conditions got worse for the Jewish residents of the ghetto, Sendler began to attempt to convince parents to let her smuggle their children out of the ghetto. Though she initially met with much resistance, that began to change as death became more and more of a certainty for. Squalid conditions in the ghetto were claiming more and more lives due to disease and starvation, and deportations to concentration camps were coming ever more often. It became easier for Sendler to convince parents to give up their children to be taken in temporarily, as their death became more and more inevitable if they stayed in the ghetto.
Sendler smuggled the children out in ambulances, boxes, sacks, and even coffins. She placed the children with families and in religious orders. She was able to obtain for them false identities by recruiting help from other government agencies. Altogether, she was able to smuggle 2,500 Jewish children to safety. She wrote out every one of their identities in code, put these lists in glass jars, and buried the jars in the ground.
In 1943, the Nazis became aware of Sendler's activities, and she was arrested ans imprisoned. She alone knew the identities and whereabouts of the children she had smuggled, and she refused to identify any of them or any of her associates, even enduring horrible torture at the hands of the Gestapo
. She was sentenced to death, and was only saved at the eleventh hour by bribes made to a guard by fellow Zegota
members. She escaped, but remained on a Gestapo
list of wanted criminals for the remainder of the war.
Even with the increased danger of being pursued by the Gestapo
, Sendler assumed a false identity, and continued to enter the Warsaw ghetto, assisting families and rescuing as many Jewish children as possible.
After the war, Sendler dug up the jars, and used the notes to hunt down as many relatives of the children as she could, to reunite them with their families.
Sendler never considered herself a hero, and continued to work for Social Welfare Organizations in Poland throughout her life. She recently celebrated her 95th birthday.
This heroine is truly a woman who is "righteous among nations".
about Sendler, put together as a diversity project by a group of Protestant schoolchildren from Kansas, is a great source for more information.