A remarkably brave and noble woman, Irena Sendlerowa left us yesterday, at the age of 98. Although recognized by Yad Vashem in 1965, Sendlerowa’s heroic story only became widely known when re-told and popularized 9-years ago by Kansas schoolgirls. Unlike proud Antisemites such as the murderous pederast Yasser Arafat, and or his increasingly grotesque supporter Jimmy Carter, Sendlerowa was actually quite deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize, for which she was nominated last year, but did not receive.
Megan Felt, one of the Kansan authors of the play, recounted the unparalleled exploits of Sendlerowa (“Sendler”), this so-called female Oskar Schindler:
By 1942, when the deadly intentions of the Nazis had become clear, Sendler joined a Polish underground organization, Zegota. She recruited 10 close friends — a group that would eventually grow to 25, all but one of them women — and began rescuing Jewish children.
She and her friends smuggled the children out in boxes, suitcases, sacks and coffins, sedating babies to quiet their cries. Some were spirited away through a network of basements and secret passages. Operations were timed to the second. One of Sendler’s children told of waiting by a gate in darkness as a German soldier patrolled nearby. When the soldier passed, the boy counted to 30, then made a mad dash to the middle of the street, where a manhole cover opened and he was taken down into the sewers and eventually to safety.
Decades later, Sendler was still haunted by the parents’ pleas, particularly of those who ultimately could not bear to be apart from their children.
“The one question every parent asked me was ‘Can you guarantee they will live?’ We had to admit honestly that we could not, as we did not even know if we would succeed in leaving the ghetto that day. The only guarantee,” she said, “was that the children would most likely die if they stayed.”
Most of the children who left with Sendler’s group were taken into Roman Catholic convents, orphanages and homes and given non-Jewish aliases. Sendler recorded their true names on thin rolls of paper in the hope that she could reunite them with their families later. She preserved the precious scraps in jars and buried them in a friend’s garden.
In 1943, she was captured by the Nazis and tortured but refused to tell her captors who her co-conspirators were or where the bottles were buried. She also resisted in other ways. According to Felt, when Sendler worked in the prison laundry, she and her co-workers made holes in the German soldiers’ underwear. When the officers discovered what they had done, they lined up all the women and shot every other one. It was just one of many close calls for Sendler.
During one particularly brutal torture session, her captors broke her feet and legs, and she passed out. When she awoke, a Gestapo officer told her he had accepted a bribe from her comrades in the resistance to help her escape. The officer added her name to a list of executed prisoners. Sendler went into hiding but continued her rescue efforts.
Felt said that Sendler had begun her rescue operation before she joined the organized resistance and helped a number of adults escape, including the man she later married. “We think she saved about 500 people before she joined Zegota,” Felt said, which would mean that Sendler ultimately helped rescue about 3,000 Polish Jews.
When the war ended, Sendler unearthed the jars and began trying to return the children to their families. For the vast majority, there was no family left. Many of the children were adopted by Polish families; others were sent to Israel.