I read Irena Sandler’s story last night. I read it from a collection of stories written by Cameron C. Taylor in his recent Volume 2 of 8 attributes of Great Achievers. I read the story 3 times in a row. Yes, 3 times in a row. I couldn’t believe it. And I had my 16 year old son read it to me aloud. I google her to make sure this is a real story. Indeed, It’s an amazing, uplifting story of courage in the dark, troublesome age of the Nazi Germany.
Irena Sendler was born in 1910 in Poland. She was a nurse, and a social worker before the Nazi German army invaded Poland in 1939. Jews were separated from the rest of the population and were put in a ghetto protected by armed soldiers.
Irena, as a nurse, had access to the ghetto and watched thousand of Jews died of starvation. Secretly, she brought in food, clothing, and even forged documents to help the Jews. But, she realized that getting the Jews of this macabre place called The Warsaw Ghetto is the only way to save them. She also knew this task would be greatly difficult and very risky. Families who were caught helping the Jews were killed.
Irena focused on rescuing children from the ghetto. She started with the escaping of 3-4 orphans a week, placing them with foster families, orphanages, and various convents. She extended her network and began saving 15 children a day. 2500 children were saved through her effort and supporting team. She created faked names for the children and insisted that their real names be preserved. She kept all their real names, locations, and other archives, in a jar buried under an apple tree.
She was arrested in 1943, sent to jail, sentenced to be executed. She was severely tortured. Her Nazi interrogator asked her about her accomplices, leaders, code names, escape routes, and the names and addresses of others involved.
She was strong under torture which was repeated each day for at least one hour, with the interrogator asking the same questions again and again.
On the morning of January 20, 1944, her name was called for execution. She was taken by a SS German officer to the right while other women went to the left. She thought she was being taken for another beating and asked to be taken to the other door to be shot.
Irena wrote, “Death would be a relief- less to fear than one more beating. I had not divulged any names or any details about our network of the children’s lists.”
The officer, who, according to Cameron C. Taylor, had received a large bribe for her release, pushed Irena to the room in the right which had an open door to a quiet street. He told Irena: “You are free. Get out of here as fast as you can.”
She felt the chill of the Polish crisp January morning. The sun blinded her as she had not seen it for hundreds of days. Her name was on the list of those executed the day before and her crime listed as “aiding and abetting Jews, consorting, with underground elements.”
she went in hiding for the remainder of the war, sleeping at different places each night. She continued her work helping children returning to the apple tree to retrieve the buried jars filled with the names of the rescued children.
After the war, she expressed great fear that the memory of the Holocaust would be forgotten. She said not to let “the sensation of fear convince you that you are too weak to have courage. Fear is the opportunity for courage.”
Cameron C. Taylor reported a conversation Irena had with her father when she was seven years old to explain why she led such a risky rescue effort. Her father was sick, and she went to visit him in the hospital with her mother. Her father called Irena to his side and said, ” Irena. Always remember what I taught you. People are all the same… Always remember, my darling Irena. If you see someone drowning, you must rescue him.”
She answered, “I’ll remember, father.” Her father died 5 days later.
Irena Sendler was just a four feet tall woman. Very petite. But, her courage was inversely proportional to her physical stature. It is said time and time again, “it’s not the size of the man in the fight, but the size of the fight in the man.”
Cameron concluded this chapter about the courageous Irena Sendler that she remembered the words of her dying father, and she rescued many who were drowning.
She passed away on May 12, 2008. She was 98. She left a legacy of courage to live on, and the strength to act even when we are afraid.
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