Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Unsung Heroine of the Warsaw Ghetto

A few years ago, I came across this eulogy in a magazine that was lying around. An incredible story of bravery and heroism in the face of great risk to personal safety. I've carried this story around with me for the last few years, both literally and in my mind, inspired and thankful for the example of faithful and dedicated people who refuse to lie down and accept evil in this world triumphing over the downtrodden and persecuted.

You won't regret taking the time to read this, it's one of the most inspiring stories I've read. The last sentence gives me goosebumps every time. To me it's the Kingdom of God at work.
The Unsung Heroine of the Warsaw Ghetto
(Taken from "THE WEEK", 24 May 2008)

Irena Sendler, who has died aged 98, is credited with having saved the lives of some 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII. She risked her own neck to do so, said The Independent, but never considered herself a heroine. "That term irritates me greatly," she reflected in 2005. "The opposite is true - I continue to have qualms of conscience that I did so little."

Born in Warsaw, the daughter of a Roman Catholic doctor, she was brought up to help the needy. "If you see someone drowning," her father used to say, "you must jump into the water to save them, whether you can swim or not." When the Nazis herded the city's 500,000 Jews into an area of barely four square kilometres, to await transportation to the death camps, Irena joined Zegota, the secret council for Aid to Jews. She and her colleagues visited the ghetto disguised as nurses, purportedly to treat the inhabitants for disease. In reality, however, they were spiriting the children to safety in sacks, in baskets, even in coffins, before hiding them in convents or with sympathetic Gentile families. They told the Nazis that they infants in question had died of typhoid.

Late in 1943, Sendler's house was raided by the Gestapo after a tip-off. She just had time to give her list of the identities of the rescued children to a friend (who hid it in her underwear) before being taken away. She was tortured, her broken legs and feet leaving her permanently disabled, but she told her captors nothing. Finally she was sentenced to death, but Zegota managed to bribe her guard to release her. After the War she became a social worker and director of vocational schools. For decades, Sendler's wartime bravery went unrecognised, said The Daily Telegraph - the communist authorities were more concerned with rewarding the deeds of party members. It wasn't until 2003 that she received Poland's highest honour, the Order of the White Eagle, and in 2007 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (it went to Al Gore). 

She spent her last years in a nursing home being looked after by one Elzbieta Ficowska, whom, in July 1942, Sendler had smuggled from the ghetto in a carpenter's toolbox.

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