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Life Arts

Holocaust Hero: Irena Sendler

By       Message Suzana Megles       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink

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Of all the women McCain could have chosen for vice president, in my opinion, he picked the wrong one.  Oh yes, she is making quite a stir -- testament to our shallow thinking.  As a woman, I would be only too happy to support a worthy woman candidate, and as I was going over my old e-mails -- I found one who would have fit the bill.  The only problem-- she died at 98 on May 12, 2008, and she spent her life in Poland.  Her name is Irena Sendler and she was even nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Though I commend Al Gore for making us more conscious of Global Warming, he was not the first to embrace this concept.  However, it was his good fortune that his notoriety and passion made it easier for him to spread his "green" message nationally and beyond.  

But when compared with Irena Sendler, who put her life on the line time and time again to save 2500 Jewish babies and children from extermination, for me, this alone made her more deserving than Gore.  While Gore made us more aware of Global Warming, he never put himself in harm's way to save others, as Irena did. 

She will always be a heroine to me - deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize and then some.  Sendler received several humanitarian awards from around the world, including Israel, Poland and a letter of appreciation from the papacy.  Even without the Nobel Prize, Irena's name will always be remembered -- not only by people like me, but by the very grateful families of those 2500 children she saved. 


Sendler was born in Warsaw in 1910.  As a child of Poland, she learned compassion and understanding of the Jewish condition from her physician father who died from typhus while treating Jewish patients. As a pro-Jewish activist who opposed ghetto benches, she was suspended from the Warsaw University.

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In 1939 when the Germans invaded Poland, she was employed by the Social Welfare Department in Warsaw.  From the beginning, this intrepid Catholic Social worker began helping Jews by providing food and shelter.  She and others created over 3,000 false documents to help Jewish families.  All those helping the Jews in German-occupied Poland risked a death sentence if they were found to be hiding any Jews. 

In 1942 she was nominated to head the Children's Section of the Zegota (Council for Aid to Jews).  In this position she had a special permit to enter the Warsaw Ghetto, to check for signs of typhus which the Nazis feared would spread beyond the ghetto. 

Linked with the Polish Relief Organization which the Germans tolerated under their supervision, Irena organized the smuggling of Jewish children from the Ghetto.  She put Jewish babies and small children in boxes and suit cases.  Sometimes she was able to send them out in ambulances or trams.

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Her "safe" house was the old courthouse on the edge of the Warsaw Ghetto from which the smuggled children were placed with Polish Families, the Warsaw Orphans of the Sisters of the Family of Mary, or other Roman Catholic convents.  Some children were even placed with priests in a rectory.  But none of these children's names would be forgotten because Irena hid lists of their names in jars in order to keep track of their original and new identities.  Her agency, the Zegota, assured the children that they would be returned to Jewish relatives.

Irena would not go unscathed by these heroic acts of courage performed time and time again to save these precious Jewish children.  She was finally arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 --tortured and sentenced to death.  Zegota saved her by bribing the German guards on the way to her execution.  She was deposited unconscious in the woods with broken arms and legs.  After being rescued, she thereafter lived in hiding but still continued her work with the Jewish children.   When the war was over, she dug up the jars and tried to re-unite the children with their parents.  Sadly, almost all had died at the Treblinka extermination camp.  (Now tell me, should she have gotten the Nobel Prize or not?)

There is much more to her story which can be found on the internet, but the absolutely marvelous portion of her story was that it probably would never had been known but for Megan Stewart and her friends.  In 1999 they were inspired by their high school history teacher in Kansas to investigate a small clipping of the life of this almost unknown hero, Irene Sendler.  They followed this inspiration and became so enthralled by the life of this amazing woman which research had opened for them that they created a play "Life in a Jar."  Because of their efforts, ten years after the play and many media stories which it inspired, their website www.irenasendler.org has made Irena world famous. 

These marvelous students even managed to visit her six times in Poland and on their sixth and last visit before she died she told them, "You have changed Poland; you have changed the United States; you have changed the world. I love you very, very much."

Irena, we need more women of your caliber.  

By bringing Irena's story to light, the girls effected changes in Poland's Holocaust education, in people's perception of that period of time, and have illuminated the story of a grand hero for their country and the world.

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In May of 2005 Hallmark Hall of Fame announced that a movie based on the book written by Ana Mieszkowska, Mother of the Children of the Holocaust: The Irena Sendler Story, was being prepared and will be aired by CBS.  I can't wait to see it.


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