“You have to read this article Diana posted.” I urged Doug this afternoon. Diana is a Facebook friend whom I discovered when I joined the ‘Ten Pound Poms’ group. Although we have never met, we travelled to Australia on the same ship many years ago. The article Diana shared was from the New York Post inviting us to ‘Meet the female Schindler who saved 2,500 kids by posing them as gentiles.’
During World War 11 Irena Sendler was a young social worker who took incredible risks to save Jewish children in Nazi occupied Poland. Jews had lived in Poland since the Middle Ages and by the 1920’s they made up between a quarter to half of the population in Poland’s larger cities. Warsaw was no exception. Poles and Jews spoke each other’s languages and interacted in markets and on the streets.
Part of Warsaw had been turned into a ghetto and was sealed off with bricks, barbed wire and guards. This confined 400.000 Jews behind its walls. Irena who was a Catholic started to realize the fate that was awaiting these families. She helped to establish an underground network ferrying starving Jewish children from the Ghetto and resettling them with gentile families. Birth certificates were forged reinventing Jewish children as Aryans.
When a Christian child died in an orphanage the death was not reported and the name and registry number were passed along to give a new identity to a Jewish foundling. With the help of her co-workers and tradesmen they used coffins, toolboxes and any means they could find to ferry the children to Polish homes. Each child was given a Polish name and Irena records which she buried in bottles under a tree in a friend’s backyard. This was to enable the children to be re-united with their families after the war. Sadly, 98% of the children’s parents died in the Treblinka extermination camp.
In October 1943 Irena was arrested, tortured and sentenced to death. However, on the day of her execution an officer was bribed to let her go. She spent the rest of the War in hiding. Tilar J Mazzeo the author of her story says “She thought she was saving one life but in fact she was saving all of these people that didn’t exist yet.” Irena lived till she was 98 and passed away in 2008. Needless to say, I have ordered a copy of her story (Irena’s Children).
Irena knew she risked summary execution if she was caught (millions of Poles also lost their lives at this time). Yet she and her helpers were prepared to take that risk. Any courageous act that may be required of us pales in comparison. So, it behoves us all to step out, be brave and do what we have to do. Solomon writes “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might”. Ecclesiastes 9:10