Irena Sendler: Polish World War II Hero

Kamie Berry | November 1st, 2017

You may never have heard of her, but Irena Sendler was a hero. Born in Poland in 1910, this nurse and social worker, who lived in Warsaw at the outbreak of World War II, saw what was being done to Jewish people and decided she had to act. Though she was not Jewish herself, she understood that the things that were happening, like forcing Jewish people to live in ghettos, was wrong.

She already had a job working for the Welfare Department when the Nazis first invaded Poland in 1939. Even though it was illegal to help Jews (and would be punishable by death by 1941) Irena helped anyway. Her first action was to convince a group of her co-workers to create fake papers for Jewish families. These would allow those families to escape the ghettos and transportation to concentration camps. From 1939 to 1943, she and her colleagues created over 3000 false papers for Jewish families.

image.pbs.org

Sometime in 1943, Irena joined the Zegota, an underground group that resisted the Germans and helped Jewish people escape the Nazis. She became head of the Jewish children’s section of this group because of her connections through her job. Because she was an employee of the Social Welfare Department, she had special permission to enter the Warsaw ghetto. She visited often, always wearing a yellow Star of David badge to show her solidarity with the Jewish people. Though ostensibly there to check for signs of typhus among the inhabitants of the ghetto, she used her time there to accomplish something truly amazing.

While on her rounds in the ghetto, Irena would smuggle small children and infants out. She secreted them out in suitcases, boxes, and sometimes ambulances if she had access to a willing driver. By these means, she personally smuggled out over 400 Jewish children. In total, Zegota saved over 2500 children from the ghettos and worse fates.

These smuggled children would be placed with Christian Polish families or with other Catholic religious organizations. The children were given Christian names and taught about the Christian religion in case they were ever questioned. While this was necessary to save them, Irena was worried about the loss of their Jewish identities. For this reason, she kept careful track of each child’s real name and where they were located, so they could return to their religion and heritage after the war.

Irena suffered greatly for her cause, too. In 1943, she was arrested by the Gestapo. Before they took her, she managed to get the list of children’s names to a friend. Had the Germans discovered this, they could have found them all and sent them to camps. The list was saved, but Irena was not so lucky. She was beaten so badly while being questioned that both of her feet and legs were broken. She was sentenced to death, but her friends in Zegota saved her by bribing her prison guards.

Despite grave danger to herself, she returned to Warsaw after her ordeal and worked as a nurse under a fake name. She continued to help Jewish people during this time, as well.

When the war was over, she gave the list with the children’s names to a committee that was handling family reunification. Sadly, nearly all of the parents of the children had been killed or gone missing.

Irena lived a long life, dying at age 98 in 2008. In her life after the war, she resisted communism and supported Jewish rights. She was never really recognized for her humanitarian efforts, though, because of the Soviet Union’s takeover of Poland. She was, however, made an honorary citizen of Israel in 1991. She was also honored in her final years by several national governments, including, finally, her own.

Next Article
  • One Russian Doctor Had To Remove His Own Appendix

    In 1961, a Russian doctor had to remove his own appendix when it burst during an expedition to Antarctica. The surgeon Leonid Rogozov became seriously ill during the trip, and quickly realized as the only doctor, he would have to perform the operation on himself. As the polar winter ensured...

    Read More
  • The Only Voter In The Region

    India has over 800,000 polling stations when it gears up for a general election, but once they are completely unique: it only has one vote, and his name is Guru Bharatdas. A priest that takes care of a temple deep in the jungle. Five polling officials and two policemen have...

    Read More
  • War Pigs Were Used By The Romans

    During the time of ancient warfare, many empires were using military animals to supplement their armies prowess. Everyone has heard the stories of giant elephants that made up the ranks of the Persian armies. Well as always your enemies will find a countermeasure and invest in how they can defend themselves against your deadliest weapon....

    Read More
  • The Company Teaching Crows To Clean Up Cigarette Butts

    We often comment on how polluted the world is and that no one takes enough incentives to throw things in the trash correctly. Many companies around the world are trying to help governments create recycling programs that work, and startup company is even employing some friendly crows to do the work for them. And why...

    Read More
  • Some Hunters Save Time By Using Pre-Seasoned Buckshot

    When it comes to hunting and shotguns, you really never know what a ballistic company may make next to try and encourage hunters to buy more of their products. If it is not ingenious ways to hold their rifles or stylish looking ammo holders and numerous other accessories then the one thing they like to...

    Read More
  • Julius Caesar And The Year Of Confusion

    What we have now known as 46 BC in modern times was an extremely odd year during the time of the Roman Empire. This was at the height of Julius Caesar’s beautiful Rome and he was preparing to shake up the year with some large calendar reforms. In the end, it extended for 445 days...

    Read More
  • Shrek The Sheep Whose Fleece Provided Twenty Suits

    Shrek was just an ordinary sheep living in South Island, New Zealand when one day Shrek decided to go on an adventure and escaped from his enclosure. Merino sheep normally have their coat sheared once a year, but Shrek hated this with a passion. For over 6 years his escape was a successful one, hiding...

    Read More
  • New York Has Entire Fake Buildings

    In one novel called Foucault’s Pendulum, we watch two characters talk about a house that does not appear to be real. That people walk merrily passed a house in Paris but do not know the real truth, that the house is completely fake. There are just two walls, an entire facade: an enclosure with no...

    Read More