Thursday, March 28, 2013

Irena Sendler

Believe it or not -- this is something I learned on Pinterest....

Irena Sendler was a Polish Roman Catholic nurse/social worker who served in the Polish Underground during World War II, and as head of children's section of Żegota, an underground resistance organization in German-occupied Warsaw assisted by two dozen other Żegota members, Sendler smuggled some 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and then provided them with false identity documents and with housing outside the Ghetto, saving those children during the Holocaust.

In August 1943, as an employee of the Social Welfare Department, Sendler had a special permit to enter the Warsaw Ghetto to check for signs of typhus, something the Nazis feared would spread beyond the Ghetto. During these visits, she wore a Star of David as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish people and so as not to call attention to herself.

She cooperated with others in Warsaw's Municipal Social Services department, and the RGO (Central Welfare Council), a Polish relief organization that was tolerated under German supervision. She and her co-workers organized the smuggling of Jewish children out of the Ghetto. Under the pretext of conducting inspections of sanitary conditions during a typhus outbreak, Sendler and her co-workers visited the Ghetto and smuggled out babies and small children in ambulances and trams, sometimes disguising them as packages.

Children were placed with Polish families, the Warsaw orphanage of the Sisters of the Family of Mary, or Roman Catholic convents. She and her co-workers buried lists of the hidden children in jars in order to keep track of their original and new identities. Żegota assured the children that, when the war was over, they would be returned to Jewish relatives.

In 1943, Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo, severely tortured, and sentenced to death. Żegota saved her by bribing German guards on the way to her execution. She was listed on public bulletin boards as among those executed. For the remainder of the war, she lived in hiding, but continued her work for the Jewish children. After the war, she and her co-workers gathered together all of their records with the names and locations of the hidden Jewish children and gave them to the Żegota. However, almost all of their parents had been killed at the Treblinka extermination camp.

Irena Sendler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. She lost to Al Gore -- who did a Powerpoint about global warming. Ugh. Irena died in Warsaw on 12 May 2008, aged 98.

In 1999, students at a high school in Uniontown, Kansas produced a play based on research into Irena Sendler's life story titled Life in a Jar. It has since been adapted for television as The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler. Actress Anna Paquin played Sendler. Her story was largely unknown to the world until the students developed The Irena Sendler Project, producing their performance Life in a Jar. This student-produced drama has now been performed over 285 times all across the United States, Canada and Poland. Sendler's message of love and respect has grown through the performances, over 1,500 media stories, a student-developed website with 30,000,000 hits, to make Sendler’s story known to the world.


  1. Hi, Rita,
    Thanks for this post of a life well lived. It inspires me to figure out how to make a difference in the next chapter of my life.

  2. The next chapter is the challenge...and making a difference...well said.