This remarkable Polish Catholic woman was a Social Worker who began helping the Jews of Poland as early as 1939 when she was only 29 years of age. She and others began creating false documentation to help Jewish families prior to joining the Zegota and being a part of the children's division. Irena and the others were putting their own life at risk to save others from the Hitler regime.
The Warsaw Ghetto During The Holocaust
One of the largest ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe was located in Poland and was referred to as the Warsaw Ghetto. The Jews in Warsaw and its suburbs were ordered to be herded into the Ghetto like animals. The Ghetto was estimated to have a population of around 400,000 people or about 30% of the Warsaw population. It is reported that at the time the Ghetto was only about 2.4% of the size of Warsaw. There were two sections to the ghetto linked by a single footbridge. The "small ghetto" was inhabited by the richer Jews. The "large ghetto" where the less wealthy lived had much worse conditions. On November 16, 1940, the Nazis closed off the Ghetto from the outside world with a wall topped by barbed wire and armed guards.
Starvation and disease (mostly typhus) took many of the inhabitants. It was reported that the common ration of food was around 186 calories per person compared to 1669 calories for the gentile Poles and 2614 calories for the Germans. Small children of 4 or 5 years old would find ways to escape over to the Aryan side each day to smuggle food back in. There were many underground activities that helped many people survive these horrible conditions. Irena Sendler was a part of one of such organizations.
Saving Children Became The Mission of Irena Sendler
Because Irena was a Social Worker she was given permission to enter the Warsaw Ghetto. She was supposed to be checking for typhus because the Germans were quite fearful that this disease would spread beyond the confines of the walls.
Irena and the people who worked with her would put children into ambulances stating that they had typhus and had to be treated. They would hide them in boxes, coffins, and any other way they could think of to get them out of the ghetto.There was a network of homes, convents, and orphanages where Irena placed these children to keep them safe from starvation, disease, and the removal to the death camps.
Her mission was to save these children in hopes of reuniting them with their parents after the war. She kept records of every child, where they went and what their name was changed to. She hid them in glass jars and buried them to keep them from being found.
The Gestapo arrested Irena in 1943. She was severely tortured, and sentenced to death. The German guards were bribed by the Zegota on the way to her execution, saving her life. The guards left her in the woods, unconscious and with broken arms and legs. Irena was listed on public bulletin boards as one who had been executed. For the remainder of the war, she lived in hiding, but continued her work for the Jewish children. She dug up the jars containing the 2,500 children's identities and attempted to find the children, after the war. Her plan was to return them to their parents. Unfortunately she found that almost all of their parents had been killed at the Treblinka extermination camp or had gone missing otherwise.
Irena Sendler's Quote:
In 2007, Irena was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize but was not selected. Al Gore won it… for a slide show on Global Warming!