5/23/08

The World Loses A Heroine.


This face is probably not familiar to you, except as a prime example of a sweet bapka who bakes and loves on babies.

But to 2,500 Polish Jewish children, this lady was a savior.

She was a senior administrator in the Polish Welfare department when the Nazis took over, and when the Jews were herded into the now-infamous Warsaw ghetto to await certain death, she decided to take action.

In baskets, strapped under gurneys, in coffins, and in toolboxes, Irena Sendler smuggled 2,500 children from the ghetto, placing them with foster families and carefully noting their name, family of origin, new code name, and new location on a tissue-paper list that she buried in her neighbor's yard. She dug the jar up every time a child was smuggled out and reburied it, somehow avoiding notice by the Nazis. She wanted to be sure that families would have access to records that would allow them to be reunited after the war.

She was eventually discovered by the Gestapo and was beaten and tortured. When she refused to reveal information while being interrogated, her arms and legs were broken by her captors. She was loaded onto a truck headed for a firing squad when she was unceremoniously dumped in a forest - friends had managed to bribe the truck driver to spare her life.

When praised for her courageous work during the Nazi oppression, this is what she said:

"The term 'heroine' irritates me greatly. The opposite is true. I continue to have pangs of conscience that I did so little."

Many of the children she rescued consider her as another 'mother'; some were so young when they were taken that her face is the only mother they remember. Whether or not these displaced children were reunited with their families [sadly, many found that their families had been killed by the SS] they expressed gratitude for their heroine, 'Jolanta'.

I wanted to mention her because she deserves so much more credit than she's been given. Movies and books have lauded other heroes, like Oskar Schindler, who was instrumental in saving hundreds of Jewish people, but this woman personally saved thousands.

She passed away last week at 98. A lady who lived by her own simple statement, she will be forever remembered by those who know her legacy as an extraordinary woman who made the difficult decision to do good, even when evil stared her in the face and threatened her at every turn.

In her own words, "the world can be better if there's love, tolerance and humility."

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