Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Irena Sendlerowa , also known as Irena Sendler was born on 15 February 1910 in Warsaw, is a former social worker in Poland. During World War Two she was an activist in the Polish Underground and she helped save approximately 2500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto by smuggling them out of the ghetto, and providing them with hiding places and false papers.
As a member of Zegota, a secret organisation set up by the Polish government in exile in London, to rescue Polish Jews, she organised a small group of social workers to smuggle Jewish children to safety.
She worked in the Warsaw health department and had permission to enter the ghetto, which had been created in November 1940 to segregate the Jewish population.
She and her team smuggled the children out by various means, such as hiding them in ambulances, or guiding them through the sewer pipes, wheeling them out on a trolley in suitcases or boxes, or taking them out through the back door entrance in the Court House on Leszno Street.
She noted the names of the children on cigarette papers, twice for security, and sealed them in two glass jars, which she buried in a colleague’s garden.
After the war the jars were dug up and the lists handed to Jewish representatives. Attempts were then made to reunite the children with their families, but most of them had perished in the death camps, particularly Treblinka, which was used to exterminate the Jews of Warsaw.
Irena was arrested in October 1943 and was taken to the Gestapo Headquarters on the Aleja Szucha, where she was held before being driven away to be executed.
But Zegota managed to bribe the Gestapo for her release and she was knocked unconscious and left by the roadside. During the war Irena was sentenced to death by the Right Wing Polish Underground for rescuing Jewish Children.
On the 15 March 2007 Irena Sendlerowa was named a national hero by Poland’s parliament, and was nominated for this years Nobel peace prize.
Irena who now lives in a Warsaw nursing home, insisted she did nothing special. In an interview she said “I was brought up to believe that a person must be rescued when drowning, regardless of religion and nationality. The term ‘hero’ irritates me greatly – the opposite is true – I continue to have pangs of conscience that I did so little.”
Elzbieta Ficowska was smuggled out of the ghetto by Mrs Sendlerowa in a toolbox on a lorry, when she was just five months old, said:
“In the face of today’s indifference, the example of Irena Sendlerowa is very important. Irena Sendlerowa is like a third mother to me and many rescued children” referring also to her real mother and her Polish foster mother.
*Irena Sendlerowa died on the 12 May 2008 in a Warsaw Nursing Home.
Read more about Irena Sendlerowas activity with Zegota [here]
The Guardian Newspaper
Holocaust Historical Society
Polish State Archives (Warsaw)
BBC World News
*Special thanks to Shirley Webb
Copyright 2007 SJ H.E.A.R.T