Photo Credit:
Irena Sendler

Sendler crisscrossed the ghetto boundaries several times daily, often bringing out the children by sedating them and smuggling them out in luggage, toolboxes and bags. Sometimes she hid them under her tram seat and at other times she put them in carts and piled garbage or barking dogs on top to distract the German guards. Older children were frequently led out through the sewers that ran under the city.

Once on the other side of the wall Sendler’s work continued. She had to forge documents for the children and locate hiding places, usually among sympathetic Polish families or in convents or orphanages.  This was not easy because, even among the Polish citizens who wanted to help, there was great fear — the Germans had a policy of killing anyone who hid a Jew, even going as far as to kill entire families.

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Sendler carefully recorded the names and destinations of all of “her” children, writing the information on tissue paper and storing it in glass jars which she buried in her garden. She hoped that after the war she might be able to reunite some of the children with their parents or, at the very least, with the Jewish community.

In October of 1943 Sendler was captured by the Germans and imprisoned in the infamous Pawiak prison. There she was tortured for refusing to give up information. Zagota members bribed a German guard who released Sendler as she was being led to her execution. Sendler lived out the rest of the war in hiding.

Sendler was recognized as a Righteous Gentile by Yad VaShem in 1965 but it wasn’t until the LMFF helped created the Life in a Jar project that she receive the recognition that she so richly deserved.

Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

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11 COMMENTS

  1. It is disconcerting that Paula Stern writes such a glowing tribute to Irena Sendler yet dishonors her memory by referring to her country as "Nazi Poland." Poland was the first country to fight back against Nazi Germany, the only country to fight the Germans from the first day of the war to the last, the only occupied country which did not spawn a collaborationist regime, and one of the very few countries which did not send volunteers to the Waffen SS. And yes, Zegota, the only government-sponsored organization for the aid of Jews in Europe. Ms. Stern, please remove this verbal blight from an otherwise uplifting article!

  2. Irena Sendler has been already nominated for the Nobel Peace Price in 2007 and has lost to Al Gore. What a shame!
    She's received Poland's highest civilian honor, the Order of the White Eagle.
    The American Center of Polish Culture gave her the Jan Karski award for "Courage and Heart."
    She was awarded the Commander's Cross with the Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta.
    In 2009, she received (posthumously) the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award.

  3. Interesting – and chilling – that the expression "Nazi Poland" is used, rather than "Nazi-occupied Poland". I have never heard Nazi-occupied France defined as "Nazi France", or Nazi-occupied Holland defined as "Nazi Holland". The Official Media History of WW2 seems to be spinning wildly to a political agenda, which makes it hard to know what to think. There certainly was a war, given that Someone had blitzed my Northern English hometown just before I was born, and us children of the post-war baby boom years played, happily enough, in its rubble and bomb sites. And back then I can also say that no-one thought it was the Evil Axis Powers of Poland, Poland and Poland that had done it. Nowadays, who knows? On the plus side, it makes me ever more grateful for for the rock of truth that is the Inspired Word of the God of Abraham – both Hebrew and Christian Greek Scriptures.

  4. "Nazi Poland" – that's a new one. I'm sure you mean http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Government, but phrasing it as "Nazi Poland" is hurtful, as you may now be well aware, thanks to so many comments.

    Poland was governed by Nazi Germany against its will. WWII was not a good time to be gay or disabled – even if you were German and not Jewish, you could be sent to a concentration camp. My Polish grandfather, who was not Jewish, was sent to Mauthausen, a slave labor camp in annexed Austria, for the duration of the war – 5 years. Any system capable of the genocide of an entire group of people has to be all around evil, based on domination and violence. Other groups were to be next… Actions of the Righteous were definitely heroic and served to restore faith in humankind during those times, but they were also acts of resistance.

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