I haven’t done a ‘Dare to Do It’ blog in forever–I’d kinda forgotten that I’d even started it until this weekend. I read about so many inspirational/brave/pioneering/interesting people and I wanted a place to highlight some of the stories I come across.
Remembering it this weekend was perfect timing, because I just read an article about Irene Sendler, who managed (along with a team of 20 other workers) to smuggle 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto from 1940-43. (Article here.)
It wasn’t until I lived over in Budapest and travelled around Central Europe that I really gained some perspective about the Holocaust. I mean, I’d read ‘Diary of Anne Frank’ in high school and taken history classes, but I gained a tangible element when I walked around different cities and talked with people who had lived through the War, and many who had lost family in concentration camps.
I started reading a lot of books, articles, and first hand accounts of the Holocaust. Yes, I am disturbed by the total inhumanity, but at the same time I am inspired by the absolute best and most tender humanity that emerges from all that horror. People like Irene Sendler, who recently passed away.
Sendler was a 29-year-old social worker with the city’s welfare department when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, launching World War II. Warsaw’s Jews were forced into a walled-off ghetto.
Seeking to save the ghetto’s children, Sendler masterminded risky rescue operations. Under the pretext of inspecting sanitary conditions during a typhoid outbreak, she and her assistants ventured inside the ghetto — and smuggled out babies and small children in ambulances and in trams, sometimes wrapped up as packages.
Teenagers escaped by joining teams of workers forced to labor outside the ghetto. They were placed in families, orphanages, hospitals or convents…Anyone caught helping Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland risked being summarily shot, along with family members — a fate Sendler only barely escaped herself after the 1943 raid by the Gestapo.
The Nazis took her to the notorious Pawiak prison, which few people left alive. Gestapo agents tortured her repeatedly, leaving Sendler with scars on her body — but she refused to betray her team.
“I kept silent. I preferred to die than to reveal our activity,” she was quoted as saying in Anna Mieszkowska’s biography, “Mother of the Children of the Holocaust: The Story of Irena Sendler.”
For me, one of the more haunting quotes from the article is from a child she helped to save.
“It took a true miracle to save a Jewish child,” Elzbieta Ficowska, who was saved by Sendler’s team as a baby in 1942, recalled in an AP interview in 2007. “Mrs. Sendler saved not only us, but also our children and grandchildren and the generations to come.“
(italics are mine).
Isn’t this the essence of humanity? Seeing in one person the vast connections to the past and to the future, and respecting that spark of immortality in everyone…regardless of race, religion, or class.
Here are some more links about Irene Sendler:
Irene Sendler bio
The story of the 4 school girls who helped rediscover Irene’s story and turned it into a play, “Life In a Jar”.
“Life in a Jar” website.