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A Heroine of the Holocaust: Irena Sendlerowa

Written by Anaisa Arora, a grade 8 student.

Irena Sendler was a 29-year-old Polish social worker living in Warsaw (capital of Poland).
She helped save the lives of 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of a Warsaw Ghetto and giving them false identities.

By I Kid You Not , in Featured History People , at April 12, 2021 Tags: , , ,

Written by Anaisa Arora, a grade 8 student.

Hitler, it is common knowledge, hated the Jews and believed they were an inferior race. He saw them as an obstacle to German racial supremacy and society – which is why he killed them in millions. Those horrific mass killings of the Jews is referred to as the Holocaust.

Holocaust, to explain, was the organised extermination and slaughter of six million Jews (along with millions of others, such as Romani individuals, intellectually and physically disabled people, dissidents, and homosexuals) by Hitler’s Nazis and its allies between the years 1933 and 1945. 

So, who was Irena Sendlerowa?

Throughout the Holocaust’s countless nights and drab hours, a heroine lived in the dark, unacknowledged for her role as a saviour. Irena Sendler was the name of that heroine. When World War II began, Irena Sendler was a 29-year-old Polish social worker living in Warsaw (capital of Poland).

She helped save the lives of 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of a Warsaw Ghetto and giving them false identities.

A quick backstory about the Nazis

After years of Nazi rule in Germany, during which Jews were persecuted on a regular basis, Hitler’s “final solution”—now remembered as the Holocaust—was carried out under the guise of World War II, with mass killing centres built in occupied Poland’s concentration camps.

The Holocaust killed about six million Jews and another five million people who were persecuted for racial, political, ideological, or behavioural purposes.

Children made up more than one million of those who died. Following the German takeover, the Council for Aid to Jews, called Zegota, managed to provide for the city’s large number of impoverished and destitute residents.

How did she get the children out?

Irena Sendler, who was the head of the children’s section of Żegota, used her position to aid the Jews, but this became almost futile after the ghetto was sealed off in November 1940.

Nearly 400,000 inhabitants had been pushed into the small area designated for the ghetto, and their condition quickly worsened. The crowded ghetto’s unsanitary conditions, as well as a shortage of food and medical supplies, resulted in epidemics and high mortality rates. Irena Sendler devised a way to enter the ghetto and assist the dying Jews, putting her life in jeopardy.

She obtained a permit from the municipality, allowing her to enter the ghetto and evaluate the sanitary conditions. Once inside the ghetto, she made friends with Jewish welfare agency activists and started assisting them. She participated in sneaking Jews out of the ghetto and setting up hiding sites for them.

When the Council for Jewish Aid (Zegota) was established, Sendler was one of its most active members. The Council was established in the fall of 1942, following the expulsion of 280,000 Jews from Warsaw to Treblinka. By the time it started to run at the end of the year, the bulk of Warsaw’s Jews had been slaughtered. It did, however, play a vital role in the evacuation of a vast number of citizens who had escaped the huge deportations. The group looked after thousands of Jews who were struggling to live in hiding, searching for safe havens, and providing for their food and medical treatment.

Sendler, nicknamed Jolanta, used her associations with orphanages and institutes for neglected children to send Jewish children there. Many of the children were sent to the Rodzina Marii (Family of Mary) Orphanage in Warsaw, as well as nun-run religious establishments in nearby Chotomów and Turkowice, near Lublin. It is unsure how many children Sendler and her colleagues rescued.

Irena used the old courthouse on the outskirts of the Warsaw Ghetto as one of the key roads for sneaking children out. 

How did she free the children?

Irena and the ten others who followed her into the ghetto used a number of tactics to smuggle children out.

There were five key ways out:

  1. Using an ambulance, an infant may be carried out when hiding under the stretcher.
  2. Escaping through the courtroom.
  3. An infant could be escorted out of sewage pipes or other hidden underground tunnels.
  4. A trolley could transport children who are hidden in a sack, a trunk, a suitcase, or anything similar.
  5. If an infant should appear to be unconscious or was seriously injured, it could be lawfully removed using an ambulance.

She gave all the children Christian names and found Christian families where they could be safe. She wrote up their real names and their new names on little strips of tissue paper that she rolled up and hid in marmalade jars. Then, she buried all the jars under a big tree in her friend’s garden.

After the war, she dug up the marmalade jars and reunited many of the children with their families.

Irena Sendler came from a background where she was neither rich nor famous but she was a true saviour. Irena was not born a hero, but she demonstrated bravery and proved that what it takes to be a hero is to endorse what is right.

She said – “I was brought up to believe that if a person was drowning, They must be rescued, Regardless of their religion or nationality”

Headline image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Irena_Sendlerowa_2005-02-13.jpg

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