Irena Sendler was a social worker, and personally responsible for saving 2,500 Jewish children during the Nazi occupation of Poland.
In 1939, 450,000 Jews were rounded up in Warsaw by the Nazis and crammed into a tiny section of the city, behind seven foot high walls, and Sendler knew that time was precious. As the head of the children’s bureau of Zegota, a social service program responsible for monitoring the threat of typhus in this newly established ghetto, she was given unlimited access by the Nazis in order to insure “sanitary conditions.”
What the Nazis didn’t realize was that Zegota was also the cover for an underground resistance movement committed to saving Jews from death, and Sendler was at the heart of this effort. For nearly five years, using health inspections as an excuse, she entered the ghetto again and again and smuggled infants and children to safety; in coffins, burlap sacks, tool cases, wrapped packages, and even beneath the floor boards of an ambulance.
And as parents gave their children to Sendler, she collected names. New identities had been created for the children, but she wanted to make sure their original identities were not lost. She buried this list of names in a glass jar in her backyard in case she was arrested.
In 1943, the Gestapo did finally catch Sendler. She was imprisoned, tortured, and sentenced to death. However she was able to escape, and went into hiding. As soon as the war ended, she dug up the jar, grabbed the list, and went to work trying to re-connect the children she’d saved with their families.
In gratitude, Israel made her an honorary citizen in 1991.
Irena Sendler is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.