Who Was Irena Sendler? (Women in History Series)

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Wow, I haven’t done one of these in a while, but I decided that I should jump right back in.

She

  • Helped save over 2,000 Jews (primarily children) during the Holocaust.
  • Was caught and severely beaten by the Nazis, especially her feet and legs, leaving her to have difficulty walking for the rest of her life
  • Kept the names of the children she smuggled out and did her best to reunite the families where the parents had survived.
  • Was up for a Nobel Prize but lose to Al Gore.
  • Has had a play written about her life-saving actions, before which she was virtually unknown.
  • Managed to escape being killed by the Nazis and went back to work helping Jews.
  • Was Polish.
  • Was a social worker.
  • Worked with Zegota, a Polish underground resistance movement.
  • Got special permission to enter the Warsaw ghetto to check for Typhus (how she was able to smuggle children out).
  • Helped provide medicine, clothing and money for Jews through her work in the Warsaw Social Welfare Department.
  • Called the “Angel of Warsaw”

Others said:

“Mrs. Sendler saved not only us, but also our children and grandchildren and the generations to come.” – Elzbieta Ficowska

“She was an organizational genius. Though the youngest, she imposed her will on her colleagues, making quick decisions which no one questioned.” – Michal Glowinski

“Irena Sendler should be seen as the Righteous among the Righteous. Poles and Jews have a trio of heroes in common; Pope John Paul II, Janusz Korzak and Irena Sendler.” -Shevach Weiss, former Israeli ambassador to Poland

She said:

“Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory.”

“We who were rescuing children are not some kind of heroes. That term irritates me greatly. The opposite is true – I continue to have qualms of conscience that I did so little. I could have done more. This regret will follow me to my death.”

“Those scenes over whether to give a child away were heart-rending. Sometimes, they wouldn’t give me the child. Their first question was, ‘What guarantee is there that the child will live?’ I said, ‘None. I don’t even know if I will get out of the ghetto alive today.”

“Here I am, a stranger, asking them to place their child in my care. They ask if I can guarantee their safety. I have to answer no. Sometimes they would give me their child. Other times they would say come back. I would come back a few days later and the family had already been deported.”

“We witnessed terrible scenes. Father agreed, but mother didn’t. We sometimes had to leave those unfortunate families without taking their children from them. I’d go back there the next day and often found that everyone had been taken to the Umschlagsplatz railway siding for transport to the death camps.”

“I was taught that if you see a person drowning, you must jump into the water to save them, whether you can swim or not.”

“When the war started, all of Poland was drowning in a sea of blood. But most of all, it affected the Jewish nation. And within that nation, it was the children who suffered most. That’s why we needed to give our hearts to them.”

“After the Second World War it seemed that humanity understood something, and that nothing like that would happen again. Humanity has understood nothing. Religious, tribal, national wars continue. The world continues to be in a sea of blood. The world can be better, if there’s love, tolerance, and humility.”

English: Irena Sendlerowa, chairman of childre...

English: Irena Sendler, chairman of children section of Polish underground Council to Aid Jews in Warsaw, who saved several thousands of Jewish children during Holocaust. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Awards:

  • Poland’s highest honor (Order of the White Eagle) 
  • Commemorated on a Polish Coin in 2009
  • Righteous Among the Nations (Awarded by Israel to non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust)
  • Commander’s Cross
  • Jan Karski Award “For Courage and Heart”
  • Order of the Smile
  • Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award

From http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/righteous/stories/sendler.asp

Books and Movies (Note, I haven’t read/watched them, I just found them):

Sources:

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