*image taken from http://info-poland.buffalo.edu/classroom/sendler/
We likely are all familiar with Anne Frank, Oskar Schindler, and perhaps Corrie Ten Boom and their lives during WW2. We've read of Anne's life in hiding and her untimely death at age 15 in spite of the great hope she carried. We may have seen the film showing how Schindler saved the lives of many Jews by employing them in his factory. Corrie Ten Boom, along with her widower father and her sister, hid Jews in their home in the Netherlands and were arrested and sent to the death camps as a result. Corrie alone survived. These people displayed courage I wonder if any of us can begin to fathom. They are heroes.
Yesterday morning the world lost another true hero. Irena Sendler was 98 years old, confined to a wheelchair, and would be the last person to call herself a hero. In fact, it is said the designation irritated her greatly as she was plagued by guilt at feeling she had left so much undone.
She was a Polish health care worker who first joined the Nazi resistance and later was responsible for smuggling 2500 children out of the Warsaw ghetto. She found foster homes for each of these children and managed to provide them with false identification documents bearing new identities so the Germans would not suspect the children. Infants and toddlers were simply given new names, but older children had to be coached to remember their new identities and false family histories so they could maintain the ruse that would save their lives. She alone kept track of the true identities of the children encoded, placed in jars, and buried in her back yard so after the war children could be reunited with their families. Sadly, most of those families perished but there was some comfort, for both Irena and the children, in being able to provide the information to those who had been too young to remember their true name and family background.
Her efforts were discovered after a fellow member of the resistance gave Irena's name under torture. In October 1943 she was arrested by the Gestapo. She suffered torture including the breaking of her legs and feet and was sentenced to death. She still refused to give any information which would endanger either the children or other resistance members. Later the Communist leaders of Poland threatened her with denying access to higher education for her own children.
She has left this world and we are poorer for her absence. May she rest in peace and find great reward. May the rest of us be strengthened by her example.
*image taken from http://www.haaretz.com