~~February 28, 2014~~
Irena Sendler (née Krzyżanowska, also referred to as Irena Sendlerowa in Poland, Nom de guerre Jolanta; 15 February 1910 – 12 May 2008) was a Polish nurse/social worker who served in the Polish Underground during World War II, and as head of children’s section of Żegota, an underground resistance organization in German-occupied Warsaw.
Assisted by some two dozen other Żegota members, Sendler smuggled some 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and then provided them with false identity documents and with housing outside the Ghetto, saving those children during the Holocaust.
The Nazis eventually discovered her activities, tortured her, and sentenced her to death, but she managed to evade execution and survive the war. In 1965, Sendler was recognized by the State of Israel as Righteous among the Nations. Late in life she was awarded Poland’s highest honor for her wartime humanitarian efforts. She appears on a silver 2008 Polish commemorative coin honoring some of the Polish Righteous among the Nations.
Irena Sendler was born as Irena Krzyżanowska on 15 February 1910 in Warsaw to Dr. Stanisław Krzyżanowski, a physician, and his wife, Janina. Her father died in February 1917 from typhus contracted while treating patients whom his colleagues refused to treat in fear of contracting the disease, among them many Jews. After his death, Jewish community leaders offered her mother help in paying for Sendler’s education. Sendler studied Polish literature at Warsaw University, and joined the Socialist party. She opposed the ghetto-bench system that existed at some prewar Polish universities and defaced her grade card. As a result of her public protest she was suspended from the University of Warsaw for three years.
She married Mieczyslaw Sendler, but the couple divorced in 1947. In 1947, she married Stefan Zgrzembski, a Jewish friend from her university days. They had three children, Janina, Andrzej (who died in infancy) and Adam (who died of heart failure in 1999). She divorced Zgrzembski in 1959, and remarried her first husband, Mieczyslaw Sendler. This rematch also failed. She lived in Warsaw for the rest of her life, and is survived by daughter, Janina “Janka” Zgrzembska.
~~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 more than 3,000 false documents to help Jewish families, prior to joining the organized Żegota resistance and the children’s division. Helping Jews in German-occupied Poland meant all household members risked death if they were found to be hiding Jews, a punishment far more severe than in other occupied European countries.
In 1965, Sendler was recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Polish Righteous among the Nations. A tree was planted in her honor at the entrance to the Avenue of the Righteous at Yad Vashem. She was also awarded the Commander’s Cross by the Israeli Institute. That same year the Polish communist government allowed 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 inWashington, D.C. She was also awarded the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta (7 November 2001).
“Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory.” (Irena Sendler)
On 14 March 2007, Sendler was honored by the Polish Senate. Aged 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.” Also in 2007 the Polish government presented her as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.
This initiative was officially supported by the State of Israel through its prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and the Organization of Holocaust Survivors in Israel residents. The authorities of Oświęcim (Auschwitz in German) expressed support for this nomination, because Irena Sendler was considered one of the last living heroes of her generation, and demonstrated a strength, conviction and extraordinary values against an evil of an extraordinary nature. She was passed over that year for the Nobel Peace Prize, which was given to Al Gore, and to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
On 11 April 2007, she received the Order of the Smile (the oldest recipient of the award).
In May 2009, 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 Sendler’s heroic efforts which saved some 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 12 May 2008, aged 98.
Irena Sendler Trailer
Published on Oct 1, 2016
The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler
~~Uploaded on Sep 20, 2009~~