A Light That Never Went Out
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Arrested, tortured and sentenced to death, Sendler managed to escape her sentence for smuggling over 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and saving them from certain death.
By Eugene S. Robinson
Schindler had a movie made about him and his possibly self-serving efforts to do what little he could to fight the dark tide sweeping over Europe during the Nazi campaign to eradicate the Jews. But people of good conscience existed everywhere, and Irena Sendlerowa, or Irena Sendler as she came to be known, was one such person. A Polish nurse and social worker in Warsaw, the 29-year-old Sendler and two dozen like-minded Poles smuggled over 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and away from the certain death that awaited them during the Nazi occupation. Smuggled them out, got them false identities and papers and placed them with people and families who were also resisting a murderous policy.
After the war, awards and recognition began to flow, occasionally noticed by Sendler who, in its aftermath, spent much of her time trying to reunite surviving children with the parents they’d been separated from. The lists of children and parents, hidden and buried in jars in the ground, stood as mute testimony to the fact that most of the parents had been killed at the Treblinka death camp. From 1939 to her capture in 1943, Sendler was a tireless advocate for the Third Reich’s smallest victims, and even after her arrest, subsequent torture and death sentence, she escaped on the way to her execution only to continue saving children in any way she could. As an employee of the Social Welfare Department, Sendler could come and go into the Warsaw Ghetto as she saw fit, frequently coming and going with babies and small children disguised as packages or hidden in trams or ambulances. And even more frequently sporting a Star of David in a not-too-small show of solidarity.
Sendler died at the age of 98 in 2008, but the year before her death, she was honored by Poland’s senate and, since she was physically unable to leave her nursing home to receive the honor, she asked a friend, Elzbieta Ficowska, to accept it for her. They had met many years earlier — when Sendler rescued her as an infant. What goes around comes around, indeed.