A Courageous Hero: Irena Sendler
February 15, 1910 – May 12, 2008 – Warsaw, Poland
Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Irenea Sendler was 98 years old when she died in 2008. She was a woman of magnificent courage, she saved the lives of more than 2,500 Jews, most of them children. She has been called the female Oskar Schindler, but she saved twice as many lives as Schindler, the German industrialist who sheltered 1,200 of his Jewish workers. Schindler, received international attention in the 1993 movie “Schindler’s List.” Sendler was hardly known to the world until four Kansas schoolgirls wrote a play about her about a dozen years ago.
Irena studied at Warsaw University and was a social worker in Warsaw when the German occupation of Poland began in 1939. In 1940, after the Nazis herded Jews into the ghetto and built a wall separating it from the rest of the city, disease, especially typhoid, ran rampant. She was especially influenced by her father, a doctor who defied anti-Semites by treating sick Jews during outbreaks of typhoid fever. He died of the disease when Sendler was 9.
She believed that one person can make a difference and lived out what she believed. “I was taught that if you see a person drowning,” she said, “you must jump into the water to save them, whether you can swim or not.”
Although she was less than 5 feet tall, she walked into the Warsaw ghetto daily facing death if she was caught. Social workers were not
allowed inside the ghetto, but Sendler, imagining “the horror of life behind the walls,” obtained fake identification and passed herself off as a nurse, allowed to bring in food, clothes, and medicine.
During WWII, Irena got permission to work in the Warsaw ghetto, as a Plumbing & Sewer specialist. She had an ulterior motive. Irena smuggled Jewish infants out in the bottom of the toolbox she carried. She also carried a burlap sack in the back of her truck, for larger kids. Irena kept a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. The soldiers, of course, wanted
nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the kids/infants noises. During her time doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2500 kids/infants. Ultimately, she was caught, however, and the Nazis broke both of her legs and arms and beat her severely.
Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she had smuggled out in a glass jar that she buried under a tree in her backyard. After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived and tried to reunite the family. Most had been gassed. Those kids she helped got placed into foster family homes or adopted.
In 2007 Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize. She was not selected. Al Gore won, for a slide show on Global Warming. Later, another politician, Barack Obama, won for his work as a community organizer for ACORN.