Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Irena Sendler, Savior of Jews in the Holocaust

I have asked many many people if they have heard of Irena Sendler.  I have not gotten any “yes” answers.  That’s a shame.  People should know about her.

Irena Sendler died on May 23, 2008.  She was 98.  During the Holocaust, in Poland, she saved Jews.  A lot of Jews.  Probably more than the better known Oscar Schindler.  We need a Thomas Kenneally or a Steven Spielberg to tell her story, too.

originally in orange


More below the fold

Irina (or Irena) Sendler (or Sendlerova), was born in 1910 in Warsaw, and died on May 23, 2008 also in Warsaw, at the age of 98.

This is one good person who did not die young.

From her childhood on, she worked to help anyone who was persecuted or needy, often placing herself at risk of arrest, torture, or death (and those risks were quite real – she lived under both the Nazis and the Soviets). She is best known (to the extent that she is known at all) for her work under the Nazis, in the Warsaw Ghetto, where she saved 2,500 Jews (mostly children), with help from many others.  

Some of Sendler’s goodness came from her parents: Her father was a doctor in the town of Otwock (near Warsaw). His office was the only one in that town that was open to anyone — Jew or Gentile, rich or poor.  Partly as a result, her father died in 1917 from typhus, which he got from one of his patients.

Irina Sendler was a social worker.  She studied to be one in Poland, and, in those days, Polish universities had separate benches for Jews.  Irena (a Catholic) sat on the Jewish benches. Life was not great in pre-war Poland, but after the Nazis invaded, things got considerably worse.  The Warsaw Ghetto crammed 450,000 people into about 1.5 square miles, and rationed them 4.5 lbs of bread per week.  But while the Nazis wanted to kill the Jews, they didn’t want typhus to break out and spread outside the ghetto, so they let nurses go in and give out medicine and vaccines. Sendler forged identification as a nurse so she could help.  She didn’t stop at that, though.

Sendler joined Zegota, a Polish underground organization, and recruited 10 friends.  She would obtain and smuggle in forged papers for the children; then she would steal sedatives and sedate babies and young children, who she smuggled out, hidden in sacks, coffins and boxes.  Then she found places for them in convents, orphanages, or with Polish families.  For older children, she found ways to escape through the sewer system.  

But she didn’t just want the Jewish kids to survive, she wanted them to know who they were.  So she kept records of each child, which she hid in jars and buried under a tree.  In 1943, she was arrested, tortured (her feet and legs were broken), and sentenced to death…. but she didn’t give up her secrets.  The Polish underground bribed a guard to let her go. While in jail, and working in the prison laundry, she and others made holes in the German’s underwear; when the Nazis discovered this, they shot half the workers.

After the war, she gave the children the jars she had hidden — but nearly all the children had no family left alive. Some moved to Israel, some were adopted by families in Poland.

The Communists tried to bury her story, since she was also anti-Communist, but in 1965, she was recognized by Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, and in 1983, a tree was planted in her honor in the avenue of the righteous.  But there still wasn’t much publicity.  There was a short report in US News and World Report in 1994, and, in 1999, Norm Conrad, a teacher in a high school in  Uniontown, Kansas, gave three of his pupils (Liz Cambers, Megan Stewart (now Felt), and Sabrina Coons…a fourth, Jessica Shelton, joined later) a copy of the article for a history day report and, together, they researched her life, found her in Poland, and wrote a play.  They used the proceeds from the performance to pay for Sendler’s care in a nursing home in Poland.

They call the play, and the project Life in a Jar.

Go, read, and feel better about the human race.

Remember Irena.


  1. For mama of  my American friends – especially  my Jewish American friends – Poland is a place of darkness, and because of recent revelations of some Polish led pogroms, before and after the war, and some existing anti semitism on the Polish right, assume that Poles largely collaborated with the Nazis

    Nothing could be further than the truth – there are many more documented acts of bravery and defiance by Poles in defence of the Jewiish fellow citizens. The Nazi attitude to the Jews was not far removed from its attitude to the Slavs who they planned to starve to death en masse had they reached Moscow by the end of 1941

    6 million Poles were killed by the Nazis, three million of them Jewish. The horrors they inflicted on the whole of Warsaw after the 44 Uprising almost as bad as the complete annihilation of the ghetto months before

    But Hitler failed to destroy either the Jewish or the Polish spirit – something I celebrate every time I visit Warsaw – which is about once a month  

  2. I had never heard of her before.  Thanks for sharing the story.  My Grandboy’s other half is Jewish and every time I look at him I think what a miracle he is.  I understand at one point their family was huge in Latvia and the folk here in the United States just an outpost, but now it’s just basically the folk in the US and there isn’t a ton of them.

  3. Moozmuse

    her called “The Courageous Heart”. You can watch it for free on Youtube in several sections, along with several other videos about and/or with her. Here is the first part of the film:

  4. 1864 House

    but appreciate more information. Such a courageous woman.

    I wonder if I would have that courage in those circumstances. I like to think I would but I’m not sure. I am grateful there have been and still are people like that in our world.

  5. Irene on facebook of all places. What a wonderful human being.

    True story, my jewish great great grandfather, upon hearing that the Germans were marching into Poland, said… ‘Good, finally the intelligentsia will save us from these anti-Semites.’

    But as your diary shows, there were people who weren’t. Thanks for writing this as this is story is largely unknown!

Comments are closed.