The Female Schindler

Veteran: Irena Sendler
Artist / WriterCamille McMennamin

In 1937, Irena Sendler was a Catholic social worker, living with her husband in Warsaw, Poland. It was the calm before the storm troopers. 

When Hitler began rattling his swastika throughout Europe, Nazi boots began pounding the streets of Warsaw. The Gestapo began rounding up Jews and throwing them into the ghetto to await trains to the camps. 

Within the walls, overcrowding was high and sanitation was nil. Disease, especially typhoid, was rampant. 

Social workers weren’t allowed inside. But medical workers were. 

So Irena, posing as a nurse, fearlessly entered the heavily guarded ghetto allegedly to diagnose and treat sick babies and children. 

She was actually there to rescue them. 

She recruited a group of women friends to help. What astounding courage it took! If caught, they would have been shot. 

They injected healthy babies to keep them quiet while they carried them out in bags and bundles past the guards. They smuggled  older kids out in gunny sacks. Hid them under medical supplies in their horse drawn cart. One boy ran for his life into a manhole and was rescued in the sewer. Others held their breath, pretending to be dead, as the rescuers took them out in makeshift coffins. 

In all, Irena Sendler and her group saved nearly 2,500 Jewish babies and children from the gas chamber. 

But where did she take them? How did she keep track of them? Above all, how in the world did she convince their grieving, terrified parents to let her take their children, possibly never to see them again? 

Irena promised they would be safe, loved and cared for in convents and with brave Polish Catholic families until the end of the war. She kept their names buried in a glass jar in her yard, hidden from the Nazis. 

Tragic to think how few Jews ever saw their children again. 

Sadly, the Nazis discovered Irena’s activities and tortured her, breaking her legs and feet. She was sentenced to death, but miraculously, her Nazi guard accepted a bribe and released her. 

Irena Sendler is honored in Poland, Israel and America for her selfless humanity and courage. In 2007 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.