Irena Sendlerowa's achievements
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- Irena Sendlerowa provided clothes, food and other help to the Jewish population in WW2. - She provided this help to the Jewish community both inside and outside the Ghetto. As early as 1939, when the Germans invaded Warsaw, Irena began helping Jews by offering them food and shelter. She found a way of entering the Ghetto, under the pretence of making sanitary inspection during a tyhoid outbreak. She established contacts and made up names to register families for aid. Irena and her helpers made over 3,000 false documents to help Jewish families before she joined Zegota.
- Irena Sendlerowa led a small group of social workers who rescued 2,500 Jewish children in Warsaw during the Holocaust in WW2. - She recruited at least one person from each of the ten centres of the Social Welfare Department. Irena and her team supported children in-hiding who were already outside the walls as well as rescuing children from within the Ghetto in many ingenious ways and at great risk. She masterminded the risky rescue operations, leading her small group of about 20 people who managed to smuggle out children right under the noses of the Gestapo.
- Irena became the head of Zegota's children's department of the Polish Underground. - In September 1942, the Polish underground set up an organisation which later, in October, became known as Zegota, the Council of Assistance for Jews. Irena contacted Julian Grobelny from the Polish Socialist Party (Polska Partia Robotnicza), a member of Żegota, realising that she needed the support of the nework if she was to save more young lives. Grobelny commissioned various tasks for Irena to carry out in the Ghetto. In December 1942, Irena became the head of its children's department.
- She put in place an efficient organisation able to carry out the complex task of smuggling out and hiding the children. - This included persuading parents to part with their children; absorbing the children, undetected, into the local Catholic community; and making sure that each family hiding a child realised the child must be returned to Jewish relatives after the war (although almost all the parents of the children Irena saved died at the Treblinka death camp). Irena also maintained contact with the children in hiding to make sure they were safe and not being abused.
- She continued her work during the difficult days of the Ghetto uprising. - With the deportations to the death camps having commenced in the summer of 1942, Irena's work became even more urgent. The aim now was to smuggle out and place in safety as many children as possible and as quickly as possible. This was extremely difficult and dangerous work. During the Ghetto uprising, Irena organised more 'Custody Points' (places where rescued children were held until a place was found for them). Communication with those in hiding became more difficult as szmalcowniks (denouncers) were reporting to the German authorities for money.
- Irena stood firm against the Nazis, even after her arrest and torture at the infamous Pawiak prison. - The Gestapo wanted the names of the Zegota leaders, their addresses and the names of others involved. Irena gave them the story she and her collaborators had prepared in case they were captured. The Gestapo tried to persuade her to talk by holding up details of the places, times and persons who had informed on her. She still refused to inform on others. She continued her silence even when her legs and feet were fractured which left her marked for life. Irena was prepared to die if necessary. Indeed Irena was packed on a truck with about 30 others and taken to the headquarters of the Gestapo. She knew she was going to her execution as the trucks were well known in the city. A terrified Irena was later separated from the others by a Gestapo officer, under the guise of taking her for additional interrogation. She was shocked when he suddenly released her after hitting her in the face several times. Unknown to Irena, Zegota had bribed the guard otherwise Irena would have been executed.
- She kept detailed records and ensured these did not fall into the hands of the Gestapo. - The personal data of the children saved by Irena and her colleagues was written down on narrow pieces of thin tissue-like paper. Initially these were kept at her house but after her arrest and their near discovery she buried the lists in jars in the garden of a neighbour. She kept records, in code, of each child's real name, based on their birth certificate, and their current address. This data was necessary in order to be able to provide them with money, clothing, medicine, and also so that they could check on the welfare of the child. Most of all, it was important so that they could be identified after the war and reunited with any family members that had survived. Irena dug up the jars the end of the war and gave them to the Jewish Committee, so that they could trace any family members.
- Irena was the recipient of many honours after the war but remained modest about her achievements. - In 1965, she was awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust remembrance authority. In 2003, Irena received the Order of the White Eagle, the highest Polish civil decoration. She was a recipient of the ‘Jan Karski Award For Valour and Compassion’ and was nominated by the Polish Government for the Nobel Peace prize. Irena never sought attention or awards and, despite her great work, felt regret that there was not more she could have done.