........Irena Sendler - a woman who lived her life as a truly selfless individual, saving 2500 Jewish children during WWII.
An Honoured Gentile indeed.
This is a story worth reading.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
|Born||15 February 1910 |
Warsaw, Congress Poland, Russian Empire
|Died||12 May 2008 (aged 98) |
|Occupation||Social worker, humanitarian|
Irena Sendler (in Polish Irena Sendlerowa née Krzyżanowska; 15 February 1910 – 12 May 2008) was a Polish Catholic social worker who served in the Polish Underground and the Żegota resistance organization in German-occupied Warsaw during World War II. Assisted by some two dozen other Żegota members, Sendler saved 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto, providing them false documents, and sheltering them in individual and group children's homes outside the Ghetto.
Sendler's story was brought to light in the United States when students in Kansas found it described in a magazine and popularized it through their original play Life in a Jar. On April 19, 2009, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, a Hallmark Hall of Fame production written and directed by John Kent Harrison and starring Anna Paquin in the title role, was broadcast by CBS.
Irena sympathized with Jews from childhood. Her great-grandfather had been deported to Siberia by Czarist Russia. Her physician father had died in 1917 of typhus contracted while treating Jewish patients. She opposed the ghetto-bench system that existed at some prewar Polish universities and as a result was suspended from Warsaw University for three years.
World War II
During the German occupation of Poland, Sendler lived in Warsaw (prior to that, she had lived in Otwock and Tarczyn while working for urban Social Welfare departments). As early as 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland, she began aiding Jews. She and her helpers created over 3,000 false documents to help Jewish families, prior to joining the organized Żegota resistance and the children's division. Helping Jews was very risky—in German-occupied Poland, all household members risked death if they were found to be hiding Jews, a more severe punishment than in other occupied European countries.
In December 1942 the newly created Żegota (the Council to Aid Jews) nominated her (by her cover name Jolanta) to head its children's section. As an employee of the Social Welfare Department, she 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 the Children's Section of the Municipal Administration, linked with the RGO (Central Welfare Council), a Polish relief organization that was tolerated under German supervision. She organized the smuggling of Jewish children out of the Ghetto, carrying them out in boxes, suitcases and trolleys. Under the pretext of conducting inspections of sanitary conditions during a typhoid outbreak, Sendler visited the Ghetto and smuggled out babies and small children in ambulances and trams, sometimes disguising them as packages. She also used the old courthouse at the edge of the Warsaw Ghetto (still standing) as one of the main routes for smuggling out children.
The children were placed with Polish families, the Warsaw orphanage of the Sisters of the Family of Mary, or Roman Catholic convents such as the Little Sister Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary Conceived Immaculate at Turkowice and Chotomów. Some children were smuggled to priests in parish rectories. She hid lists of their names 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 left in the woods, unconscious and with broken arms and legs. 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 dug up the jars containing the children's identities and attempted to find the children and return them to their parents. However, almost all of their parents had been killed at the Treblinka extermination camp or had gone missing otherwise.
"Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory."
—Letter to the Polish Parliament
After the war and the Soviet takeover of Poland, she was at first persecuted and imprisoned by the communist Polish state authorities for her relations with the Polish government in exile and with the Home Army. While in prison she miscarried her second child and her other children were later denied the right to study at communist controlled Polish universities.
In 1965 Sendler was recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous among the Nations, which was confirmed in 1983 by the Israeli Supreme Court. She also was awarded the Commander's Cross by the Israeli Institute. Only in that year did the Polish communist government allow her to travel abroad, to receive the award in Israel.
In 2003 Pope John Paul II sent Sendler a personal letter praising her wartime efforts. On 10 October 2003 she received the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest civilian decoration, and the Jan Karski Award "For Courage and Heart," given by the American Center of Polish Culture in Washington, D.C..
On 14 March 2007 Sendler was honored by Poland's Senate. At age 97, she was unable to leave her nursing home to receive the honor, but she sent a statement through Elżbieta Ficowska, whom Sendler had saved as an infant. Polish President Lech Kaczyński stated she "can justly be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize" (though nominations are supposed to be kept secret). On 11 April 2007, she received the Order of the Smile as the oldest recipient of the award.
In May 2009, Irena Sendler was posthumously granted the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award. The award, named in honor of the late actress and UNICEF ambassador, is presented to persons and organizations recognised for helping children. In its citation, the Audrey Hepburn Foundation recalled Irena Sendler’s heroic efforts that saved two and a half thousand Jewish children during the German occupation of Poland in World War Two.
Sendler was the last survivor of the Children's Section of the Żegota Council to Assist Jews, which she had headed from January 1943 until the end of the war.
In 2007 considerable publicity accompanied Sendler's nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. While failed nominations for the award have not been officially announced by the Nobel organization for 50 years, the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo, reported in 2007 that Irena Sendler's nominator had made the nomination public.  Regardless of its legitimacy, talk of the nomination focused a spotlight on Sendler and her wartime achievements. The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and former Vice President of the United States Al Gore.
Life in a Jar
In 1999, Megan Stewart and her friends were inspired, by their high school history teacher Norman Conard in southeast Kansas, to investigate a small clipping on the life of an unsung hero, Irena Sendler. When the students began their research, they found a website that mentioned her. Based on their findings, the students created a play, Life in a Jar (after her hiding place for documents). After ten years, their play and the subsequent media attention had made her world-famous.
As of August 2008, there have been over 250 performances: first in Kansas, then throughout the United States and Canada, and later in Europe. The students (now young men and women in their mid-20s) continue to share her story with the world. They made six trips to Poland to visit her before she died on May 12, 2008. The cast visited Irena in Warsaw a week before her death. Irena's final words to them, “You have changed Poland, you have changed the United States, you have changed the world [by bringing Irena’s story to light]. Poland has seen great changes in Holocaust education, in the perception of the time and have provided a grand hero for their country and the world. I love you very, very much.”
Students have collected over 4,000 pages of research on Irena's life and persons she worked with during the war. More than 100 colleges and universities use material gathered by project members for class instruction. She told the students in 2002, "You cannot separate people based on their race or religion. You can only separate people by good and evil. The good will always triumph."
Life in a Jar/The Irena Sendler Project has created a teacher's award in the United States and Poland for the outstanding teacher in Holocaust Education. Project members are now working with the Children of the Holocaust Organization in Warsaw to erect a statue in her honor, to be completed in 2010 on the centenary of her birth.