Irena Sendler - candidate for Peace Nobel Prize

President Lech Kaczynski, currently on an official visit to Israel, proposed that Poland and Israel should jointly apply for the Peace Nobel Prize for Irena Sendler. During World War 2 Irena Sendler saved over 2500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto as a member of the resistance organization Zegota.

Irena Sendler From the early days of the German occupation, Sendler worked to alleviate the suffering of many of her Jewish friends and acquaintances. Employed in the social welfare department of the Warsaw municipality, she received a special permit allowing her to visit the ghetto area at all times, ostensibly for the purpose of combating contagious diseases. This gave her the opportunity to provide many Jews with clothing, medicine, and money. When walking through the ghetto streets, Sendler wore an armband with the Star of David, both as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish people and so as not to call attention to herself. At the end of the summer of 1942, Sendler was approached and asked to join the newly founded Council for Aid to Jews. She became a valuable asset to Zegota, for she had already enlisted a large group of people in her charitable work, including her companion Irena Schulz, who had a widespread network of contacts in the ghetto and on the "Aryan" side.

Irena Sendler specialized in smuggling Jewish children out of the ghetto and finding secure places for them with non-Jewish families in the Warsaw region. Each of her coworkers was made responsible for several blocks of apartments where Jewish children were sheltered. She herself oversaw eight or ten apartments where Jews were hiding under her care. The sheltering families were supported by funds from Zegota. In October 1943, Irena Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo, taken to the infamous Pawiak prison, and brutally tortured to make her reveal information.

Failing to elicit such information, her interrogators told her she was doomed. However, on the day set for her execution, she was freed, after her underground companions bribed one of the Gestapo agents. Officially, she was listed on public bulletin boards as among those executed. Forced to stay out of sight for the remainder of the German occupation, Sendler continued working surreptitiously for Zegota. In 1965, she was recognized by Yad Vashem as a "Righteous Among the Nations."


A Saintly Smuggler US News and World Report, 10/27/03 This Thursday, Irena Sendler will be honored for her work as a smuggler. During World War II, the Polish social worker sneaked nearly 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto. She gave them new identities, found them haven with good-hearted Christians, and kept the children's real names buried in jars in her neighbors' gardens. (A U.S. News story about her efforts, published in 1994, inspired a group of Kansas teens to write a play, Life in a Jar, that is still being performed; see At 93, Sendler lives in a Warsaw nursing home and is too frail to travel to Washington, D.C., to receive the 2003 Jan Karski Award for Valor and Compassion from the American Center of Polish Culture. One of the children she saved will accept the award on her behalf. You risked your life to save the children. I was taught by my father that when someone is drowning, you don't ask if they can swim, you just jump in and help. During the war, everyone was drowning, but mostly the Jewish children. How did you convince parents to give up their children? I had to answer honestly that I didn't even know if we would get past the guards. What was the most frightening moment? When I saw a priest in charge of an orphanage for Jewish children in the ghetto walk with them out to be killed. The children were in their best Sunday suits. The priest was killed with them. How did you get the children to behave as you smuggled them out? I told the older children to act as if they were sick and sometimes gave the younger ones a sleeping pill. Some of the mothers in the ghetto who wanted their children smuggled out also had prepared the children for weeks, telling them their new names. They also told the children to tell guards they had only been visiting a servant in the ghetto and were going back to their real homes outside. Did you tell your own two children what you did? I never told them. Only when my daughter went to Israel did she learn all about me. I thought it was so normal that I was helping, so there was nothing to boast about. And it was a very painful subject. It was always on my mind that I couldn't do more. -Samantha Levine

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