History's HEROES? 1910 - 2008

Irena Sendlerowa

Irena Sendlerowa - Timeline

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1910 February 15th - Irena is born in Warsaw, the daughter of Stanislaw and Janina Krzyzanowski, Polish Catholics. She is brought up in Otwock. Her father, a Socialist and a doctor, is one of the few willing to treat Jewish patients.
1914 World War 1 begins and Poland becomes a battleground between the partitioning armies of Russia, Germany and Austria.
1917 February - Irena's father dies of typhus, contracted from one of his poor patients. His belief, that people in need must be helped at all cost, greatly influences Irena.
Irena and her mother move to Warsaw.
1918 November 11th - World War 1 ends and Poland becomes independent. The Treaty of Versailles in 1919 gives western Prussia (Germany) to Poland, providing Poland with access to the Baltic Sea.
1919 The Polish-Soviet war begins. The Poles, led by Pilsudski, defeat the Russian invasion. The war ends in 1921.
1923 Irena gets into trouble at school for fist-fighting two bullying girls to defend her Jewish classmate.
1926 Irena is suspended and threatened with expulsion for leaving school to buy a newspaper about the insurrection and coup d'etat which sees Jozef Klemens Piłsudski become Chief of State of the Republic of Poland.
1930 Irena is suspended from student activities and nearly loses her place at university for sitting with her friends on the Jewish side of the room.
1931 Irena becomes involved with the Polish Democratic Youth Union and the Polish Socialist Party (she later leaves the party when the Polish United Workers Party is formed in 1948).
Around this time, Irena completes her course in Polish Philology at the University of Warsaw, while also taking additional courses in the Pedagogy (children's) department.
Irena marries Mieczysław Sendlerowa, the assistant in the Classical Philology department at the University of Warsaw.
1932 Irena carries out an internship in Wolna Wszechnica Polska, around this time, which has a reputation as a Communist-leaning school.
Irena is hired by the Citizens’ Social Aid Committee, to work in the division which cares for mothers and children. She takes care of unwed mothers.
1933 January 30th - Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany.
1935 The Citizens’ Social Aid Committee is dismantled. Irena is moved to the Welfare Assistance Department of the Warsaw Administration.
1939 January 30th - In a speech, Hitler blames Jewish financiers for the coming crisis and warns that the result of war would be the “annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe”.
Warsaw's Social Welfare Department runs canteens giving food and financial help to orphans, the poor, the sick and the elderly throughout Warsaw. Irena as a Senior Administrator is involved in this work.
September - Poland is invaded by Germany and Russia. Hanz Frank, one of the most brutal Nazis, becomes Governor-General: the leader of the Nazi officials governing Poland.
October 4th - A few days after the city's surrender to the Nazis, Adam Czerniakow is made head of a 24-member Judenrat (Jewish Council), responsible for implementing Nazi orders in the Jewish community.
November - The Nazis decree that all Jews over twelve years of age must identify themselves by wearing the Star of David on their sleeve. The first of a series of laws are made, excluding Jews from every area of society.
Irena starts to help the Jewish people through the department, giving out medicine, money and clothing. She makes up family names and tells the authorities that they are suffering from diseases like typhus to prevent visits.
1940 The Nazis herd thousands of Jews into an area of Warsaw and build a wall around the Ghetto, to seal it off from the outside world. The people are severely rationed to less food than required to keep a human alive and well.
1941 Russian forces are defeated by Nazi Germany and driven from eastern Poland.
An epidemic of typhoid breaks out because of the cramped and unsanitary conditions. In the Warsaw Ghetto, 6,000 are dying each month from starvation and disease.
Irena obtains a pass from Warsaw's Epidemic Control Department for her and a colleague, allowing them to enter the Ghetto legally. She visits daily, re-establishing contacts and bringing food, medicines and clothing.
With so many dying, Irena decides to help the Jewish children to get out. At first she helps orphans, later she will have the difficult job of persuading parents to part with their children.
1942 January to June - The Nazis finalise plans for "The Final Solution", that is the eradication of the entire Jewish population, and construct death camps.
July 19th/20th - Panic spreads as rumours circulate of railroad cars, ready and waiting for mass deportations. The SS deny the rumours and Czerniakow tries to calm the population.
July 22nd - Adam Czerniakow, leader of the Judenrat, receives instructions that all Warsaw Jews are to be deported at the rate of 6,000 per day.
July 22nd - The Treblinka extermination camp is opened. The first shipment of 6,000 Jewish people arrives.
July 23rd - Realising he's been lied to and that deportation means death, Adam Czerniakow commits suicide.
August 5th - Soldiers come to collect around 200 children from the orphanage. Janusz Korczak, head of the ophanage, refuses to leave them. He and his staff march with the children through the Ghetto. All are later murdered at Treblinka.
September - The 'Provisional Committee to Aid Jews' is set up. In October 1942, this becomes 'The Council to Aid Jews', known as "Zegota".
December - Irena is nominated by Zegota to head up their children's section. Her cover name is Jolanta. Irena organises the work of smuggling Jewish children out of the Ghetto and finding places for them to live safely until the end of the war.
Despite the threat of execution, many of her colleagues help. Between them they manage to save many children. Each child's details are written down in code, to help them be reunited with family after the war.
By the end of 1942, it becomes known to Ghetto inhabitants that the deportations are part of an extermination process.
Two resistance organisations, the ZZW and ZOB, take control of the Ghetto, constructing dozens of fighting posts. Bunkers and hideouts are hurriedly constructed in many ingenious ways. The Jewish population goes underground.
1943 January 18th - SS and other forces enter a deserted Ghetto to begin mass deportations. They meet with armed Jewish resistance. Only 5,000 people are removed instead of the 8,000 planned. The deportation is halted within a few days.
April 19th - The main uprising in the Ghetto begins when the police and SS auxiliary forces enter to empty the Ghetto. The inhabitants hold the SS at bay for three weeks.
April 19th - Two boys climb on the roof of the headquarters of the Jewish Resistance in Warsaw and raise the blue-and-white banner of the Jewish Military Union. The flag can be seen from the Warsaw streets. News reaches Himmler who is incensed.
April 23rd - A furious Heinrich Himmler commands Stroop to crush the resistance "with ruthless and murderous tenacity." SS General Stroop orders his forces to burn down the entire Ghetto, building by building.
During the uprising Irena organises more 'Custody Points' (places where rescued children are held until a place is found for them). Communication with those in hiding is difficult as szmalcowniks (denouncers) are reporting to the German authorities for money.
May 8th - The Germans discover the ZOB's main command post, located at Mila 18 Street. Most of its leadership and dozens of remaining fighters are killed, others commit mass suicide.
May 16th - The suppression of the uprising officially ends. 13,000 Jews have been killed in the uprising. The remaining 50,000 are captured and shipped to extermination camps, in particular to Treblinka.
June 2nd - Himmler orders that the ghetto "be leveled flat with the earth ..." Partisan skirmishes continue, however, and sporadic shooting is heard within the Ghetto until mid-July, when the area is reduced to rubble.
October 20th - Irena's house is raided by the Gestapo. Irena is arrested and taken to Pawiak prison where she is tortured over the following weeks. Although both her legs and feet are fractured, she refuses to betray her colleagues or the children she has been saving.
1944 January - Irena is sentenced to be executed. And, according to Nazi records, she is indeed put to death. However, Zegota manage to bribe a guard and she is suddenly freed on the way to her execution.
Irena hides the lists of the children's names in jars and buries them in her neighbour's garden.
Irena, as Klara Dabrowska, goes into hiding from the Germans when it becomes clear she has escaped. For some time she stays at her uncle’s near Nowy Sacz.
August 1st - Warsaw resistance fighters attempt to free the city from the Nazi occupation in a battle that lasts 63 days. Without the hoped for help from the Allies, they are eventually defeated. Many thousands of people are killed.
During the Warsaw Uprising, Irena works as a nurse for the Polish Red Cross at the hospital point on ul. Łowicka 51/53. Here, she hides three Jewish adults, as well as two children.
1945 January 17th - Soviet and Polish troops march into the area - the war is over.
At the Yalta conference, Great Britain, America and Russia agree to leave Poland under Russian control.
Irena digs up the jars with the children's names and gives the lists to the Jewish Committee. Adolf Berman takes it to Israel where it is copied many times.
1947 By now, Irena and her husband are divorced. Irena marries fellow underground activist, Stefan Zgrzembski, and they have a son and a daughter.
1949 Irena is interrogated by the the Security Agency (Urzad Bezpieczenstwa), because word has reached them that she is hiding members of the Home Army (AK).
1965 Irena becomes one of the first 'Righteous Gentiles' honoured by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem for wartime heroics. The Communist authorities do not allow her to travel to Israel to collect her award.
1980 Irena becomes a member of Solidarity.
1983 Irena is finally presented with her Righteous Gentile honour after she receives a passport. She goes to Israel and plants an olive tree on the Avenue of the Righteous of Yad Vashem.
1991 Irena is made an honourary citizen of Israel.
1999 Irena's forty nine year old son dies of heart problems.
Four students from Uniontown Kansas, produce a play called 'Life in a Jar', which helps to broadcast this story to the world.
2002 March 10th - Temple B’nai Jehudah presents Irena Sendlerowa with its annual award “for contributions made to saving the world”.
2003 Pope John Paul II sends a personal letter praising her wartime effort.
November 10th - Irena is awarded Poland's highest distinction, the Order of White Eagle. She also recieves the Jan Karski Award “For Courage and Heart,” given by the American Center of Polish Culture in Washington, D. C.
2007 Irena is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Prize is awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore.
2008 May 12th - Irena dies in a nursing home in Poland, aged 98.
2009 May - Irena is posthumously granted the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award, named in honour of the late actress and UNICEF ambassador.
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