Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History, Volume XVI

Monday, September 15, 2008
This is Irena Sendlerowa. She passed away on May 12, 2008.

During World War II Ms. Sendlerowa was an activist in the Polish Underground and the Żegota Polish anti-Holocaust resistance in Warsaw. She helped save 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto by providing them with false documents and sheltering them in individual and group children's homes outside the Ghetto.

A Catholic social worker, Ms. Sendlerowa was allowed inside the Ghetto in order to inspect the residents for typhoid and dysentery. She did this with the approval of the Nazis who were afraid the diseases would spread beyond the Ghetto. Once inside, she would smuggle out children in boxes, suitcases, coffins and trolleys. Older children would escape through the sewers. All were placed in foster homes, with new identities, by Ms. Sendlerowa and her support system. She would write down the real name of each child, and stored them in a jar she buried in her yard. Her intention was to reunite these children with their families after the war ended.

In 1943, Ms. Sendlerowa was captured by the Gestapo. She was tortured and sentenced to death, but Żegota was able to rescue her and hide her for the duration of the war, but not before the Gestapo had broken both of her arms and legs.

Her inspiration for this incredible life? Her father, a medical doctor, had died from typhus in 1917, treating Jewish patients. As he was dying, he told 7-year-old Irena, “If you see someone drowning you must try to rescue them, even if you cannot swim.”

Just so.

Irena Sandlerowa. Courageous. Resourceful. A moral beacon. Truly ill-behaved.


H/T to my Great Aunt Marge for the inspiration, and to the Life in a Jar Project for details.

3 comments:

Nathan said...

I'm familiar with her story. Yeah, she was just courageous beyond comprehension. Weaker sex my ass.

MWT said...

Did the name-in-jar thing work out after it was all over?

Janiece Murphy said...

MWT, she did look for some of the children, but most of their birth families were dead.

Others have joined the "Life in a Jar" project.