When my parents died, they left behind many puzzles. One of the most profound is of the woman who hid them for a year and a half in the cellar of her villa in Grochów, Warsaw.
September 2010, Aneta Krzak
“We had to act very subtly and carefully because the children were terrified, scared and dreadfully missed their mother, father, grandmother and the whole family. Unceasingly, we had to remind them that ››your name has changed and you’re not Rachela anymore but Zosia now‹‹. It was a very difficult experience for us [adults] let alone how shocking it had to be for the children” – said Irena Sendler.
Those who knew her say that she was “modest, cheerful and always emphasizing that she wouldn’t have been able to save anybody if it hadn’t been for help of other people”.
Between 1939 – 1942 while working as a social worker in a town hall in Warsaw, she organized on her own a net of 20 social workers. At first they only helped the children [with food supplies etc.] but later they led many Jewish children out of the ghetto and found them a place on the “Aryan side” of the city: in some families, orphanages and convents. Irena Sendler used to write down details on every led out child on a slip of paper and kept them hidden in a jar, so she would be able to find them after the war. It is estimated that Irena Sendler saved 2500 children.
Since 1942 she had been active in “Żegota” ( The Polish Council to aid Jews). In 1943 arrested by Gestapo, she was tortured and sentenced to death. However, Żegota paid a huge bribe for her life and she was only “executed” on paper.
Fifty years after the II World War, American female students from Kansas paid a tribute to the collective memory of Irena Sendler’s silent heroism by performing a play “Life in a jar”.
In 1965 she was rewarded with The Medal of the Righteous among the Nations, The Grand Cross of Polonia Restituta, The Order of White Eagle (the highest order in Polish honor system) and a children’s award – The Order of Smile. In 2007 she was nominated to the Nobel Prize.