Irene Sandler

The Times in 2008 did a very good obituary on this lady:

When Germany invaded Poland in 1939 Irena Sendler had no doubt how to respond. “I saw the Polish nation drowning. And those in most difficult position were the Jews. And among them those most vulnerable were the children. So I had to help.”

Sendler, a social care nurse for the Warsaw city council, spent the next four years risking her life in the Warsaw ghetto, delivering essential supplies and, when the true purposes of Nazi policy became apparent, smuggling out as many children as she could.

She saved many hundreds of lives — perhaps as many as 2,500. Even under torture and sentence of death, she refused to reveal the whereabouts of the rescued children to the Nazi occupiers, and after escaping captivity went back to the underground, making sure that those she had hidden survived the war.

She was born in Warsaw in 1910, the only child of Dr Stanislaw Krzyzanowski. The family moved to the nearby town of Otwock, where her father had a reputation as the only doctor who would treat Jewish patients during typhoid epidemics; he himself died of the disease in 1917. Irena, unusually for a Catholic child, was allowed to play with Jewish children and said that her father taught her “that if you see a person drowning, you must jump into the water to save them, whether you can swim or not”.

In the summer of 1942 deportations from the ghetto to Treblinka death camp began. Sendler joined Zegota, the Polish organisation set up to help Jews, and began getting children out. “We would go to the ghetto every day and try to get as many children as possible because the situation would worsen every day.”

Smuggling them out was risky, because any Pole caught helping Jews was sentenced to death. Sendler used false documents, hid small children, sedated, in sacks and boxes — even coffins — and sent older ones out through the sewers or basement passageways. One mechanic took a baby out in his toolbox. Others went through a courthouse which had one entrance in the ghetto and another on the “Aryan side”.

Sendler was taken to the notorious Pawiak prison, where she was methodically tortured and beaten, leaving her permanently scarred. She never revealed the names of the children or of her underground colleagues.

Officially, she was executed in early 1944. But in fact, Zegota had bribed a German guard to let her escape from death row.

“I once carried such a tearful broken-hearted little boy to other guardians when he asked me ‘please tell me how many mums you can have, for this is the third one I’m going to’.”

After the liberation Sendler retrieved the list of names from where she had buried it during the Warsaw uprising of 1944, in jam jars under an apple tree in a friend’s garden. She helped Jewish organisations to trace those few children whose families had survived the Holocaust. But even these reunions were painful, for the children had to be uprooted from their homes yet again. Many of the rest were eventually sent to Palestine.

Irena Sendler, social worker and rescuer of Warsaw’s Jews, was born on February 15, 1910. She died on May 12, 2007, aged 98

Read the full story here:


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