Irena Sendler (née Krzyżanowska, commonly referred to as Irena Sendlerowa in Poland; 15 February 1910 – 12 May 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.
Sendler was born as Irena Krzyzanowska on 15 February 1910 in Warsaw. Her father, Stanislaw Krzyzanowski, was a physician. Sendler sympathised with Jews from childhood. Her father died in February 1917 of typhus contracted while treating patients his colleagues refused to treat. Many of those patients were Jews . After his death, Jewish community leaders offered to pay for Sendler's education. She opposed the ghetto-bench system that existed at some prewar Polish universities and as a result was suspended from Warsaw University for three years.
World War II
During the German occupation of Poland, Sendler lived in Warsaw (prior to that, she had lived in Otwock and Tarczyn while working for urban Social Welfare departments). As early as 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland, she began aiding Jews. She and her helpers created over 3,000 false documents to help Jewish families, prior to joining the organized Żegota resistance and the children's division. Helping Jews was very risky—in German-occupied Poland, all household members risked death if they were found to be hiding Jews, a more severe punishment than in other occupied European countries.
In August 1943, Żegota (the Council to Aid Jews) nominated her (by her cover name Jolanta) to head its children's section. As an employee of the Social Welfare Department, she had a special permit to enter the Warsaw Ghetto to check for signs of typhus, something the Nazis feared would spread beyond the Ghetto. During these visits, she wore a Star of David as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish people and so as not to call attention to herself.
She cooperated with others in Warsaw's Municipal Social Services department, and the RGO (Central Welfare Council), a Polish relief organization that was tolerated under German supervision. She and her co-workers organized the smuggling of Jewish children out of the Ghetto. Under the pretext of conducting inspections of sanitary conditions during a typhus outbreak, Sendler and her co-workers visited the Ghetto and smuggled out babies and small children in ambulances and trams, sometimes disguising them as packages. She also used the old courthouse at the edge of the Warsaw Ghetto (still standing) as one of the main routes for smuggling out children.
The children were placed with Polish families, the Warsaw orphanage of the Sisters of the Family of Mary, or Roman Catholic convents such as the Little Sister Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary Conceived Immaculate at Turkowice and Chotomów. Sendler cooperated very closely with social worker and catholic nun, mother provincial of Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary - Matylda Getter. She rescued between 250-550 Jewish children in different education and care facilities for children in Anin, Białołęka, Chotomów, Międzylesie, Płudy, Sejny, Vilnius and others. Some children were smuggled to priests in parish rectories. She and her co-workers buried lists of the hidden children in jars in order to keep track of their original and new identities. Żegota assured the children that, when the war was over, they would be returned to Jewish relatives.
In 1943, Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo, severely tortured, and sentenced to death. Żegota saved her by bribing German guards on the way to her execution. She was listed on public bulletin boards as among those executed. For the remainder of the war, she lived in hiding, but continued her work for the Jewish children. After the war, she and her co-workers gathered together all of their records with the names and locations of the hidden Jewish children and gave them to their Zegota colleague Adolf Berman and his employees at the Central Committee of Polish Jews. However, almost all of their parents had been killed at the Treblinka extermination camp or had otherwise gone missing.
After the war and the Soviet takeover of Poland, Irena Sendler was persecuted by the communist Polish state authorities for her relations with the Polish government in exile and with the Home Army. During this period she miscarried her second child.
In 1965, Sendler was recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous among the Nations. She also was awarded the Commander's Cross by the Israeli Institute. Only in that year did the Polish communist government allow her to travel abroad, to receive the award in Israel.
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. The award, named in honor of the late actress and UNICEF ambassador, is 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.
From : www.wikipedia.org