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Irena Sendler. Unknown hero of WW2.

Updated on November 30, 2012

I know there are some other hubs telling about this person but I could not stand against a temptation to write about this extraordinary woman - Irena Sendler (Sendlerova). Believe it or not but she was absolutely unknown in the Soviet Union despite the fact that she saved thousands of Jews from the Ghetto in Warsaw. Politics and ideology made Irena Sendler unknown for many and many years. Nowadays a recognition came to her. Her work and her attempts so save others are a great lesson of humanity to all mankind. Look on the face of this woman and try to remember her. She was a real hero!

Occupation of Warsaw

Warsaw was occupied by Nazi troops in 1939. Irena Sendler worked in a social department of the city council. She was 29. She used her position to help Jewish people in Warsaw with money and food. Irena also contacted Polish resistance and was hiding Jewish people with the help of other people.

In autumn 1940 Nazi collected all Jews in one ghetto, made a wall around it and thus cut this place from the rest of the world. Nazi explained the necessity of building the ghetto because “Jewish people are spreading infections”. Their isolation was supposed to defend the other population of the city from typhus. The territory of a ghetto was in a part of a city with a high concentration of a Jewish population. All other inhabitants were forcibly removed from this place and instead of them 138000 Jewish were settled.

If anyone tried to leave ghetto he could be sentenced to 9 months in prison. Later it was changed to the capital punishment.

People from Warsaw Ghetto are sent to Treblinka
People from Warsaw Ghetto are sent to Treblinka | Source

 Polish resistance

Irena Sendler was one of those few people who could visit this ghetto legally as an employee of the city sanitary department. German soldiers were afraid of typhus outbursts in the ghetto but at the same time did not want to cure Jews themselves. She brought to ghetto food, medicines and money. But the main reason of her coming there was an attempt to save children.

In 1942 Nazi started a mass removal of Jewish people to the death camps. Poles created a secret organization helping Jewish people- Zegota. Irena was also a member of Zegota and was responsible for children from the ghetto.

Irena and her colleagues visited ghetto several times a day and secretly took children out of there. First she took orphans, and then she convinced parents to let children go with her. None knew what is waiting for them, but there were some rumors that Jews may be killed by Nazists. Irena was probably better aware of fact that Nazists were going to send Jewish people to gas chambers.

Ways to save children

There were several ways to move children out of the ghetto: under stretches of an ambulance, using the old building of a court in the border of a ghetto, via sewage system. Infants were narcotized and hidden in bags, sacks or boxes, some children were pretending to be ill.

Irena Sendler had a dog which was trained to bark loudly when she approached the gate of the ghetto if the child started to cry.

Saved children were hidden in polish families, in the orphan asylums and in monasteries. They were given new papers, new names and new families. Yet Sendler believed in a future and believed in a possibility of re-union of these kids with their parents. So she encrypted the names of children, wrote them on strips of paper and put these strips in a glass jar which was hidden in a garden of her friend.

It is known that Irena saved 2500 (!) children. It is also known that most of them survived the war but most of their parents were killed by Nazists.

In 1943 Irena was caught by the Gestapo and put into a prison. During interrogations both her legs and arms were broken, but she gave no name. She also did not tell how to find children and did not say she had all their names written on paper strips. She was sentenced to death but in a day of execution her comrades in a Zegota bribed the guard and Irena was saved. The Gestapo was sure she is executed, but actually she was hiding from Nazi till the end of war.

After the war she took the jars out and found her children. Many of them had no idea that they were saved and did not know that their current parents are in not biological ones. Alas their parents were mostly killed and just some of them found relatives. Later most of the children were sent to Palestine and Israel.


Soviet Poland treated Irena Sendler somewhat specifically. For a co-operation with Army Krajova and an alternative polish government she was arrested by soviet Poland authorities. They say that after the prison she lived around 20 years in a monastery. In 1965 the Israel memorial Yad Vashem declared her a Righteous Woman of the World. In 1983 this recognition was confirmed by a supreme court of Israel. This year she was also allowed to go abroad and to visit Israel.

In 2003 the Pope John Paul II addressed Irena Sendler a letter of gratitude and the Polish government awarded her an Order of a White Eagle. In 2007 she was among people nominated to the Nobel Prize award.

Irena did not like a pompous performance around her name. She still lived in a small room in Warsaw. Her only visitors were those children whose lives she saved.

She died in Warsaw on the 12th of May 2008 at the age of 98. They say she was sorry for she did not do enough for saving more people...


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