Today in fact – 15 February.

Today I want to celebrate the birthday of a remarkable woman: Irena Sendler. You probably have never heard of her but her bravery and her actions against evil are an inspiration and a testament to what a small group of dedicated people can achieve under the most difficult circumstances. Born this day in 1910 Irena was a Polish Catholic hospital social worker who served in the Polish Underground during World War II, and as head of children’s section of Żegota, an underground resistance organization in German-occupied Warsaw. Assisted by some two dozen other Żegota members, Sendler smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and then provided them with false identity documents and with housing outside the Ghetto, thereby saving those children from being killed in the Holocaust. The Nazis eventually discovered her activities, tortured her, and sentenced her to death; but she managed to evade execution, through the actions of her Zegota comrades who bribed the execution squad and she survived the war. In 1965, Sendler was recognized by the State of Israel as a Righteous among the Nations. Late in life she was awarded Poland’s highest honour for her wartime humanitarian efforts and also was nominated for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. During the German occupation of Poland, Sendler lived in Warsaw. She had grown-up in a family that stood in solidarity with the Jews. During the Nazi occupation, Irena joined Zegota and in August 1943, was appointed to head its children’s section. As an employee of the Social Welfare Department, she had a special permit to enter the Warsaw Ghetto to check for signs of typhus; something the Nazis feared would spread beyond the Ghetto. During these visits, she wore a Star of David as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish people and so as not to call attention to herself. With the secret support of others in Warsaw’s Municipal Social Services department, and the RGO (Central Welfare Council), a Polish relief organization that was tolerated under German supervision, she and her co-workers organized the smuggling of Jewish children out of the Ghetto. Under the pretext of conducting inspections of sanitary conditions during a typhus outbreak, Sendler and her co-workers visited the Ghetto and smuggled out babies and small children in ambulances and trams, sometimes disguising them as packages. She also used the old courthouse at the edge of the Warsaw Ghetto which still stands as one of the main routes for smuggling out children The children were placed with Polish families, the Warsaw orphanage of the Sisters of the Family of Mary, or Roman Catholic convents such as the Little Sister Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary Conceived Immaculate at Turkowice and Chotomów. Sendler cooperated very closely with social worker and catholic nun, mother provincial of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary – Matylda Getter. Some children were smuggled to priests in parish rectories. She and her co-workers buried lists of the hidden children in jars in order to keep track of their original and new identities. Żegota assured the children that, when the war was over, they would be returned to Jewish relatives. After the war, she and her co-workers gathered together all of their records with the names and locations of the hidden Jewish children and gave them to their Zegota colleague Adolf Berman and his employees at the Central Committee of Polish Jews. However, almost all of the rescued children’s parents had been killed at the Treblinka extermination camp or had disappeared. Irena Sendler, the last living member of Zegota, died in Warsaw on 12 May 2008. Alone you will achieve very little but organized with others, you can fight against overwhelming odds.
Douglas Recionzer. For previous daily facts, see