Yoon Joung Lee
A Polish Catholic social worker, Irena Sendler, was born in 1910 in Warsaw,
a city belonging to the territory of the German Empire. Her parents were physician, Dr. Stanislaw Krzyzanowski and his wife, Janina Krzyzanowska. Irena’s last name became Sendler when she married in her early twenties. While she was serving the city’s welfare department during Nazi
Germany’s brutal World War II occupation, she took a great risk on rescuing Jewish children, as part of Żegota. Nazis burned the ghetto, shot the Jewish residents and sent them to death camps.
From 1940 to 1943, Sendler saved about 2,500 children. She smuggled out infants in the bottom part of trucks and put the elder kids in large bags in the back of the truck where she kept her trained dog. The dog was trained to bark every time the soldiers made passage, and it was also able to cover kids crying somewhat. The soldiers always got annoyed by it and made the process quicker.
In 1943, she was arrested by the Gestapo and severely tortured. They broke her arms and legs, and sentenced Sendler to death with 39 other women prisoners. She was saved on the way to her execution by a German guard, who was paid by her friends in the resistance. Since her name was on the execution list, she had to live in hiding during the rest of the war while she still helped and worked for the Jewish children.
To get rid of all records of the children she has saved, she put those in a jar and
buried it in her backyard. After the war ended, she tried to track the parents whose children she had saved. However, most of the adult parents were killed at the Treblinka extermination camp and their children were adopted by foster families.
Sendler’s story was hidden in history until four Kansas high school girls wrote a play
about her in 1999. The story was named, Life in a Jar. This student produced drama has been performed over 285 times all over the nation. The story was later adapted as a television show called The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler.
In 1965, she was selected as one of the Polish Righteous among the Nations by Yad
Vashem. She was also received theCommander’s Cross award by the Israeli Institute. In 2003, she received the Poland’s highest civilian decoration, the Order of the White Eagle as well as the Jan Karski Award, “For Courage and Heart.”
Sendler suffered from pneumonia and died at a Warsaw hospital in May, 2008.