Some of you may have already heard the story of Irena Sendler, if so, that’s ok. It’s worth repeating. I feel it’s important to look to historical figures as sources of inspiration toward good as well as our contemporaries.
Irena was born Irena Krzyzanowska on February 15, 1910 in Warsaw, Poland. Her father was a physician who died when she was 7 years old from typhus he contracted while treating Jewish patients other doctors had refused to treat.
During the German occupation of Poland Irena worked for the social welfare departments. In 1939 she began aiding Jews when the Germans invaded. Working with approximately 25 helpers, she was able to visit the Ghetto (a 16 block area set aside by the German military where Jewish people were forced to live) by conducting inspections of sanitary conditions during a typhus outbreak. While there they would smuggle out babies and children in ambulances, through sewers and even wrapped some up as packages in order to sneak them out to safety. They created false documents for the children and then they would be given to polish families, orphanages, or catholic convents. The crew kept records of the children’s original information as well as their new identities. Irena buried the information in jars under an apple tree in her friend’s backyard that was directly across from German barracks. The intent of the records was to reconnect the children with their birth families or surviving relatives once the war was over. Her team is responsible for saving the lives of approximately 2,500 children from death in the gas chambers and concentration camps. Those already in hiding were helped by moving them from location to location throughout the course of the war.
In 1943 Irena was arrested by the German Gestapo and the Nazi military burned down the ghetto, gunning down the residents and sending any survivors to death camps. While in prison Irena was severely tortured during questioning. Unwilling to give any information about her work she was sentenced to death. Members of the Zegota (a polish council to aid Jews) were able to bribe German guards; saving Irena’s life. She was listed on public bulletin boards as being executed. Until the end of the war she remained in hiding, however, she still found ways to help the Jewish children.
Once the war ended, she and her co-workers collected all the records they had kept of the children and their families and turned them over to the Central Committee of Polish Jews. Sadly, almost all of the parents had been killed at concentration camps or disappeared.
Irena returned to her work in the social welfare offices and became the director of vocational schools. While there she was able to further assist some of the children she rescued. She said she would take her biggest regret to the grave with her; that she didn’t do more.
She died in 2008 of pneumonia in a Warsaw hospital at the age of 98.
This post is part of the Nester’s 31 Day Challenge; Writing on the same topic each day of the month of October. Click on over to the Challenge to find a number of topics and authors ranging from Simplicity & Organizing to Personal Endeavors. You can head back here and scroll to the bottom of this post for a listing of all 31 days of Good News & Good People Doing Good Things.