First posted January 23, 2012
Irena Sendler (1910-2008) was a Polish Catholic social worker who served in the Polish Underground and the Żegota resistance organization in German-occupied Warsaw during World War II. Assisted by some two dozen other Żegota members, Sendler saved 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto, providing them with false documents, and sheltering them in individual and group children’s homes outside the Ghetto.
During WW II, Irena got permission to work in the Warsaw ghetto, as a Plumbing/Sewer specialist. She had an ‘ulterior motive’. She knew the Nazi’s plans for the Jews. Irena smuggled infants out in the bottom of the tool box she carried and she carried in the back of her truck a burlap sack (for larger kids). She also had 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 of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2500 kids/infants., She was caught, and the Nazi’s broke both her legs, arms and beat her severely., Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she smuggled out and kept them in a glass jar, buried under a tree in her back yard. After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived it and reunited the family. Most had been gassed. Those kids she helped got placed into foster family homes or adopted.
In 2003, Pope John Paul II sent Sendler a personal letter praising her wartime efforts. On 10 October 2003 she 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.. She was also awarded the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta (November 7, 2001). 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 helped to save as an infant. Polish President Lech Kaczyński stated she “can justly be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize” (though nominations are supposed to be kept secret).
On 11 April 2007, she received the Order of the Smile as the oldest recipient of the award.
In May 2009, Irena Sendler was posthumously granted the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award, named in honor of the late actress and UNICEF ambassador & presented to persons and organizations recognised for helping children. In its citation, the Audrey Hepburn Foundation recalled Irena Sendler’s heroic efforts that saved 2,500 Jewish children during the German occupation of Poland in World War II. Sendler was the last survivor of the Children’s Section of the Żegota Council to Assist Jews, which she had headed from August 1943 until the end of the war.
Irena Sendler died in Warsaw on May 12, 2008. Last year Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize. She was not selected., President Obama won one year before becoming President for his work as a community organizer for ACORN and Al Gore won also — for a slide show on Global Warming.