Monday, September 22, 2008

Life in a Jar

On May 12 of this year, one of the world’s great heroes died with little if any notice-let alone fanfare. Only now is this story coming to light.

Irena Sendler is this hero’s name.

She is credited with saving the lives of at least 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto at unbelievable risk to herself. As early as 1939 when the Germans invaded Poland she began providing food and shelter to Jews. Then, as it became apparent the Nazis intended to kill all Jews, she and some helpers created more than 3,000 false documents to help Jewish families escape. Keep in mind that, if caught, not only would she be put to death, but all her family members as well.

In December of 1942 Irena Sendler, who please keep in mind was Roman Catholic, not Jewish, was appointed to head a children’s section of an organization called Zegota, roughly translated, Council for Aid to Jews. As an employee of the Social Welfare Department of the occupied city of Warsaw, she had a special permit to enter the Warsaw Ghetto to check for signs of typhus, something the Nazis feared would spread beyond the ghetto. During visits to the ghetto, Irena donned a yellow star of David as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish people.

What she was really doing was smuggling babies and small children out of the ghetto, often concealed in the bottom of a tool kit she carried. During the typus outbreak she smuggled babies out in ambulances. Sometimes she wrapped the infants up as packages. The babies were placed with various Polish families, Catholic convents and orphanages. In every case, Irena wrote down the names of the children and buried them in jars. Her intent was that, after the war, it would help in reuniting families.

In 1943 Irena Sendler was caught by the Gestapo, tortured terribly and sentenced to death. She refused to reveal the names of any of those involved in the rescues. She was saved from death when her organization bribed German guards on the way to her execution. She was left in the woods unconscious with both legs and both arms broken. She was listed on public bulletin boards as having been executed. She remained in hiding for the rest of the war then dug up the jars containing the children’s identities and began an attempt to find the children and return them to living parents. Sadly, most of the parents had been killed.

After the war, Irena was at first persecuted by the Communists. She was imprisioned where she miscarried her second child. In 1965 Irena Sendler's story began to leak out. She has been awarded many citations including the Commanders Cross by the Israeli Institute. In 2003, Pope John Paul sent a personal letter praising her wartime efforts. On the 10th of October, 2003 Irena received the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest civilian decoration.
She was presented with the Jan Karski Award for courage and heart given by the American Center of Polish Culture in Washington.
On the 14th of March, Irena was honored by Poland’s senate and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

She did not win the Nobel Peace Prize. It went instead to Al Gore for his semi fictional movie.

Irena Sendler died on May 12 at the age of 98.

Her story is beginning to gain a great deal of traction, not only in Poland and Israel, but in the United States as well, where a play has been written entitled "Life in a Jar" which has been performed more than 250 times.


artarcher272 said...

WOW what a brave woman. It is indeed a shame that she did not win the nobel peace prize because she certainly deserves it.
When we think of our own problems, they all pale by her deeds.

Young Canadian said...

That's a great story. Thank you for showcasing it.

And not to purposely focus on the negative, but my blood really boiled when I read this part:

"She did not win the Nobel Peace Prize. It went instead to Al Gore for his semi fictional movie."

When I heard Gore won the Peace Prize I was bemused and a little surprised: truth or fiction, what did his movie do for "peace" anyway?

But now I know Irena Sendler was also nominated, and I'm downright angry.

Still, that's not important. What IS important is what she bravely did to save those people. So thank you once again for bringing her story to light. :)

djxtreme said...

A man who's won this based on a lie compared to a "person" like this is wrong. Just plain wrong. Man or woman, there is no comparison.

Marc said...

Irena Sendler should absolutely have received the nobel peace prize. After having read her story, I can see that some people truly deserve to be called Heroes.
As far as Al Gore receiving the peace prize instead, it just shows that the selection committee is just as "political" and ideological as the U.N. is.
What a shame.
Al Gore was the big "thing" in 2007 with the whole "inconvenient truth" movie, very popular to some, and that's why he received the award. He did NOTHING that would qualify for the Peace prize.

Carleton Place

deneb said...

Lowell, a very poignant story. I see a great movie in the making.

Let us never forget the horrors of fascism. And, of equal import, let us never forget the heroes that fought it -- for us, the lesson that good will always prevail. But there is sacrifice and risk in fighting this fascism; We cannot negotiate or appease tyrants.

I find it odd that this brave woman's story is not more widely known! Do they not teach today's kids these stories of true heroism?

Thanks for relaying such a beautiful, heartwarming story Lowell.

xiz said...

A humbling story about a very heroic lady. Unfortunately you had to diminish it with an unnecessary, and petty cheap shot at Al Gore.

Drive-by media, indeed.

Anonymous said...

I notice there is a link in the story to Gore's movie. I see no harm in throwing up the rebuttal... it's an effort called the Great Global Warming Swindle, one of the youtube versions is here:
Of course, be fore-warned, some may think it a cheap shot at Gore.