Irena Sendler, righteous gentile
Alik Keplicz/AP

Irena Sendler, Saved 2,500 Jewish Children

April 21, 2009
by findingDulcinea Staff
Irena Sendler was a Catholic social worker who smuggled Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto to safety under assumed names. Her amazing story, uncovered by four Kansas students, was adapted into a play and more recently, a CBS TV movie. In observance of the Holocaust Days of Remembrance, findingDulcinea honors the courage of Irena Sendler.

During World War II, Irena Sendler worked for a unit of the Polish underground, Zegota, which was formed to help Jews in hiding. As a health worker, Sendler was issued a pass to come and go from the Warsaw Ghetto. In 1942 and 1943, she led some 2,500 children—twice as many as Oskar Schindler—out of the ghetto to safe hiding places.

Sendler relied on religious establishments to traffic and protect the children, forging thousands of documents for children who “entered the church as Jews and exited as Christians,” the Jewish Virtual Library explained. She wrote the children’s true identities in coded notes, which she stuffed in jars that she buried underneath a tree.
A colleague gave away Sendler’s name while being tortured, and in October of 1943, Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo. She was then imprisoned and tortured, but refused to give away any names, either of colleagues or children in hiding. Sentenced to death, Sendler was rescued after a German officer accepted a bribe and allowed her to escape.

Four high school students from Kansas discovered Sendler’s story in the 1990s and wrote a play about it, “Life in a Jar,” which gained so much attention that there was a movement to nominate Sendler for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Just a year before her death, Sendler was honored as a national heroine by Polish government, and given the title “righteous gentile” by the Israeli Holocaust Memoriam Centre, Yad Vashem.

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