Remembering Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler - 1942 Recent memorial ceremonies took place in locations around the world to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. These services focused the world's attention, even for a few minutes, on the ghetto uprising as well as on the Jews who lived and died in the ghetto.

Even after 70 years researchers continue to uncover new information about the ghetto, the people who lived there and the heroes, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who put their lives in danger as they struggled against the Nazi machine. One such event involves the story of Irena Sendler.

Irena Sendler was a young Polish social worker who joined the Zagota in 1940. Zagota was a resistance organization which was specifically dedicated to helping Jews flee the Nazis. Sendler obtained false papers that identified her as a nurse with a specialty in infectious diseases. She was given a pass to enter the Warsaw ghetto where she was allowed to distribute food and medicine.

Sendler quickly realized that the Nazis meant to kill the Jews of the ghetto. She set about smuggling children out of the ghetto, sometimes under tram seats or through the sewers and other times sedated and hidden in luggage, tool boxes, and even in bags below barking dogs. Sendler brought out many orphans but in addition she walked around the ghetto knocking on doors and, in her words, "talking the mothers out of their children" as she convinced parents that the only chance that their children had to survive was if they could leave.

Once the children had been brought out of the ghetto Sendler identified safe places where they could be held, generally orphanages and convents as well as among sympathetic Polish families. She recorded the children's names and hiding places on tissue paper which she buried in jars in her backyard.

Sendler was captured by the Nazis in 1943 but even under torture she didn't reveal any information about the children. Zagota members succeeded in bribing a German guard to secure her release and Sendler spend the remainder of the war in hiding.

In 1999 the remarkable story of Irena Sendler was uncovered by a group of schoolgirls who were actually able to meet Irena, then in her 90s, still living in Poland. The girls created a project about Sendler's activities called Life in a Jar. The project has expanded and is, today, a website, a book, and a play which project participants perform for audiences throughout the world.

[ Published: May 9, 2013 ]

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