Heroes are not always combat personnel, as the story of Irena Sendler demonstrates.
|Irena Sendler (1942)|
Born on 15 February 1910 and died on 12 May 2008, she was a Polish nurse and social worker in the Polish Underground when Warsaw was occupied by the Nazi. She was the head of the children's section of the ghetto, Żegota – a Polish Council to Aid Jews organization that was active from 1942 to 1945.
Along with about 24 other Żegota members, Sendler smuggled about 2,500 Jewish children out of Warsaw Ghetto, providing them with false identity documents and safe haven outside the Ghetto, saving them from the Holocaust. It is estimated that Sendler rescued at least 400 children out of the 2,500 saved.
When Sendler was discovered in 1943, sh was arrested by the Gestapo, tortured and sentenced to death. She managed to evade execution because her comrades bribed one of the guards. She hid from the Germans during her escape, but returned to Warsaw under a fake name and continued her service with the Żegota.
In 1965, Sendler was recognized by the State of Israel as Righteous among the Nations and later awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest award for wartime humanitarian operations. Almost all of the children's parents were killed at the Treblinka extermination camp, or were just missing.
Sendler also became a member of the Home Army (AK), a resistance group loyal to the Polish government that were in exile because of the communist takeover. Between 1948 and 1949, she was imprisoned and interrogated by the communist secret police: Urząd Bezpieczeństwa. The Polish communist government never recognized her heroic efforts, and when she was to receive an award in Israel, she was not allowed to travel until 1983. She was employed as a teacher and vice-director in several Warsaw medical schools, working for the Ministries of Education and Health. She was forced into retirement for her public support for Israel in the Israeli-Arab War. In 1980s she joined the Solidarity movement.
In 1991, Sendler was made an honorary citizen of Israel and in 1996, Poland finally provided her an award for her life's achievements and bravery, receiving the Commander's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta. The rest of the world was unaware of her heroic history until 1999, made aware by a high school teacher, Norman Conrad, who produced a play based on her life called Life in a Jar. It became an international success. The play was adapted for television: The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (2009), Sendler being portrayed by actress, Anna Paquin.
Here is the trailer to the Hallmark film:
In 2003, Pope John Paul II send Sendler a personal letter praising her wartime heroism.
In the years of 2006, 2007, and 2008, Irena was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She was never awarded the prize, although Al Gore and Barack H. Obama won with far less qualifications. For many, these incidents diminished the prestige and honesty of Nobel awards.
Irena Sendler lived in Warsaw for the rest of her life, dying at the age of 98.
The Jewish Virtual Library honors her with a biography.