Thursday, April 5, 2012

Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler (née Krzyżanowska, AKA Irena Sendlerowa, Nom de guerre Jolanta), 1910 – 2008, was a member of the Polish underground during WWII.

She worked for Warsaw's municipal department, and had a permit to enter the 16-block Ghetto cordoned off by the Germans to inspect sanitary conditions during a Typhus outbreak. She began smuggling babies and toddlers out, sometimes sedated and disguised as packages. Their names were recorded in coded form and buried in jars under an apple tree. The Resistance recruited her, and the smuggling accelerated.

In 1943, Irena was arrested by the Gestapo. In prison she was interrogated repeatedly, but gave up nothing of value and continued to resist with small acts of sabotage, such as cutting holes in German uniforms when doing laundry. During a final torture session, her feet, legs and arms were broken and she was sentenced to death. A bribed guard added her name to the list of executed prisoners and left her in the woods. She lived in hiding for the remainder of the war. When it was over, she dug up the jars and tried to reunite the children with their relatives. There were 2,500 names in the jars, but almost no surviving families.

The post-war Communist government of Poland persecuted Irena because they were only aware of her involvement with the German army and not her efforts to save the children. Her family lived in poverty and public disgrace. Her children were expelled from the University.

A year before her death at age 98, she was considered for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, but it was awarded to Al Gore instead. She didn't seem to mind: "What I did was not an extraordinary thing. It was normal."

1 comment:

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

"What I did was not an extraordinary thing. It was normal."

Yep. The greatest generation.
Imagine how much self aggrandisement we'd have to listen to now if someone saved just one child