Irena Sendler, Human right activist

Irena Sendler, Human right activist

May 12, 2008: Irena Sendler dies “The Angel of the Warsaw Ghetto”.

 Irena Sendler was born on February 15, 1910 and died on May 12, 2008. She went down in history as “The Warsaw Ghetto Angel,” due to her role as a human rights activist during World War II, having contributed  to save more than 2,500 lives by getting several families to hide children of Jews and by bringing food, clothing and medicine to people barricaded in the ghetto.

 When Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Irena was a social worker, worked with nurses and organized community dining spaces in the city with the aim of meeting the needs of the people who needed it most.  In 1942, the Nazis created a ghetto in Warsaw, and Irena, horrified by the conditions in which she lived there, joined the Council for Aid to the Jews, Zegota.  When Irena walked the streets of the ghetto, she wore an armband with the star of David, as a sign of solidarity and in order not to draw attention to herself.  He quickly put himself in contact with families, whom he proposed to take his children out of the ghetto, but he could not guarantee them success.  These were extremely difficult times, when I had to convince parents to give their children to him.

 Over the course of a year and a half, until the evacuation of the ghetto in the summer of 1942, he managed to rescue more than 2,500 children by various means: he began to collect them in ambulances as victims of typhus, but he used any kind of subterfuge that  used to hide children: bags, wastebaskets, toolboxes, cargo shipments, bags of potatoes …

 Irena wanted that one day the children she hid could recover their real names, their identities, their personal stories and their families.  He then designed a file in which he recorded the children’s names and data and their new identities.

 The Nazis learned of her activities and in October 1943 Irena Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to Pawiak prison where she was tortured.  She, the only one who knew the names and addresses of the families that housed Jewish children, endured the torture and refused to betray her collaborators or the hidden children.  She was sentenced to death.  While waiting for the execution, a German soldier took her for an “additional interrogation”. As she left, she shouted in Polish “Run!”  The next day Irena found her name on the list of executed Poles.  The members of the Żegota had managed to stop Irena’s execution by bribing the Germans, and she continued to work with a false identity.

 In 1944, during the Warsaw uprising, he placed his lists in two glass jars and buried them in a neighbor’s garden to ensure they would reach the indicated hands if she died.  When the war ended, Irena dug them up and handed the notes over to Dr. Adolfo Berman, the first chairman of the surviving Jews’ salvation committee.  Unfortunately, most of the children’s families had been killed in Nazi death camps.

 At first, children who had no foster family were cared for in different orphanages and, little by little, were sent to Palestine.

 In 1965, the Yad Vashem organization in Jerusalem awarded her the title of Just Among the Nations and named her an honorary citizen of Israel.

 In November 2003 he was awarded Poland’s highest civilian distinction: the Order of the White Eagle.

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