Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Unsung Hero

Wow! It’s cooking in the office today, lol. We had a wonderful weekend driving on the Pacific Coast with the bike. It was just too hot to stay at home.

Anyway, my husband sent a video to me. I thought it’s extraordinary. And so I did a little research about Irena Sendler’s life. She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 but lost to Al Gore’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (slideshows). Sendler's story was brought to light in the United States when students of Kansas found it described in a magazine and popularized it through their play, Life in a Jar.
According to Wiki:
Irena Sendler was a Polish Catholic social worker. During World War II in German-occupied Warsaw, Poland, she was a member of the Polish Underground and the Żegota resistance organization.

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 that 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.

After the war, she was at first persecuted by the communist Polish state authorities for her relations with the "capitalist bourgeois" Polish government in exile and with the "reactionary" Home Army. She was imprisoned, she miscarried her second child, and her children were denied the right to study at 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. It was only that year that the Polish communist government allowed 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 Sendler 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 that she "can justly be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize" (though nominations are supposed to be kept secret). On 11 April 2007, aged 97, she received the Order of the Smile as the oldest recipient of the award.

She died May 12, 2008 at Warsaw, Poland.
"Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory".
—Letter to Polish Parliament


3 Grateful Heart's Words:

Kabi said...

really a great lady

Duni said...

That was an interesting read. I learned so much from this article. Thank you, Shawie.

btw, I have a special award for you. Feel free to pick it up from my blog when you have time to spare.

take care,


Salute said...

Thanks for sharing this piece of history. Very interesting story. Have a blessed week.