“...to remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all…” Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and author
Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic woman, was born in 1910. During World War II, because she was a social health worker, Sendler had access to the Warsaw Ghetto and the Jewish children imprisoned there. Secretly she worked with a unit of the Polish underground, concealing children from the Nazi authorities. Sendler depended on the Church to help hide the Jewish children by forging documents for them. In 1942 and 1943, Sendler led 2,500 children out of the ghetto to safe places of hiding. The Jewish children were hidden by Polish families, or by Catholic clergy. She preserved the children’s true identities in buried glass jars. She took upon herself enormous risk in protecting the identities so that the children could be returned to their families after the war had ended.
In October of 1943, Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo after a colleague gave away her name while being tortured. Sendler herself was then imprisoned and tortured, but refused to give away any names, of either Polish Underground members or children in hiding. Sentenced to death, Sendler was saved as she was being taken to her execution. She escaped when an associate bribed a German officer. She was left in the woods, unconscious and with broken arms and legs. She was listed on public bulletin boards as among those executed. For the remainder of the war, she lived in hiding, but continued her work for the Jewish children. After the war, she dug up the jars containing the children’s identities and attempted to find the children and return them to their parents.
After the war, Sendler was persecuted by the communist authorities, for her association with the Polish anti-Nazi resistance groups. She was imprisoned, miscarried her second child, and her other children were denied the right to study at Polish universities.
In 1965, Sendler was recognized by Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. She also was awarded the Commanders Cross by the Israeli Institute. In 1983 the Communist Polish government allowed her to travel abroad, to receive the award in Israel. In 2003, Pope John Paul II sent a personal letter to Sendler, praising her wartime efforts. She also received awards from the Polish people after the overthrow of Communism.
In 2007 Irena Sendler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The award instead went to Al Gore. She passed away May 12, 2008.
May we never forget the horror of the Holocaust. May we remember a brave Polish woman Irena Sendler, who exemplified Christ and his teaching, ” love thy neighbor as thyself”.