Irena Sendler the Unknown Holocaust Hero
Just when we think that there's nothing new to learn about the Holocaust, a new incident comes to light to give us a new perspective. This is particularly true regarding the story of Irena Sendler. Sendler was a non-Jewish woman who was responsible for saving over 2500 Jewish children, yet her story was almost lost to history.
Irena Sendler was a young social worker when the war broke out in Poland in 1939. She joined the "Zagota," the Polish underground which was committed to assisting Jews. When the Warsaw ghetto was established, Sendler succeeded in obtaining a pass that allowed her, as a social worker, access into the ghetto. Sendler quickly surmised that the Nazis intended to murder the Jews who were living in the ghetto. She took it upon herself to begin smuggling children out of the ghetto. Some of the children were orphans but others still had living parents and Sendler "talked the parents out of their children," as she later said, convincing the parents that the only opportunity that their children had for survival was to be placed with a gentile family for safekeeping.
Sendler and other Zagota volunteers smuggled the children out of the ghetto, sometimes through the Old Courthouse which sat on the ghetto's border but at other times through the sewer pipes which ran below the city or by hiding the children under tram seats or in workboxes. Once the children had been safely removed from the ghetto Sendler found families who agreed to foster the children for the duration of the war. This act, in itself, could bring a death sentence to all members of any family and finding such families was very difficult, but Sendler managed to find families for all of the children that she had smuggled out of the ghetto. Sendler carefully archived all of the children's real names and hid them, along with a record of the families with whom she had placed them for safekeeping, in jars which she buried in her yard. She hoped that she would be able to reunite the children with their families after the war but this was not possible for the vast majority of the children. At the very least though, she ensured that they could be reunited with their community.
IN 1943 Sendler was captured by the Nazis and interned in the Gestapo prison where she was tortured, but she never revealed where any of the children were. After Zagota obtained her release Sendler went into hiding till the end of the war. Sendler's acts are depicted in a moving project, Life in a Jar an initiative of the Lowell Milken Center, an organization created by a Jewish businessman which runs a number of Holocaust related projects.