Irena Sendler

Heroes Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Irena Sendler collage

A hero is defined as a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. Well, this story is about a female hero:  Irena Sendler – a young Polish woman, who defied the Nazis to save over two thousand young Jewish children from the concentration camps.

Mrs. Sendler was head of the children’s bureau of Zegota, an underground organization set up to save Jews after the Nazis invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. Soon after the invasion, approximately 450,000 Jews, about 30 percent of Warsaw’s population, were crammed into a tiny section of the city and barricaded behind seven-foot-high walls.

On April 19, 1943, the Nazis began what they expected would be a rapid liquidation of the ghetto. It took them more than a month to quell the Warsaw ghetto uprising. By then, only about 55,000 Jews were still alive; most of them were sent to death camps.

Also by then, however, Mrs. Sendler’s group of about 30 volunteers, mostly women, had managed to slip hundreds of infants, young children and teenagers to safety.

It is estimated that by the end of the war, Irena and her team placed over 2,500 children in orphanages, convents or with catholic families (after receiving falsified papers from a local church). Irena herself was a Roman Catholic.

Here’s what Irena Sendler wrote in a letter about her own status as hero, “Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer living, is the justification of my existence on this earth, and not a title to glory.”

Other Sources:

Irena Sendler, Lifeline to Young Jews, Is Dead at 98
New York Times, 13 May 2008

Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers, 2011

Irena Sendler (1910 – 2008)
The Jewish Virtual Library

Irena Sendler FAQs
The Irena Sendler Project

Senate Passes Irena Sendler Resolution
Press release, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, 23 September 2008

Gore, U.N. Climate Panel Win Nobel Peace Prize
MSNBC, 12 October 2007

Oprah and Gore Among 181 Peace Prize Nominees
The Guardian, 23 September 2007


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Categories: Activism

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