13 May 2008

Death of a heroine




WW Follows


Today’s Independent carries the obituary of Irena Sendlerowa who died yesterday at the age of 98. During WWII she risked her life to smuggle thousands of children out of the Warsaw Ghetto.


A social worker, she rescued 2,500 in total children. "Her courageous activities ... serve as a beacon of light to the world, inspiring hope and restoring faith in the innate goodness of mankind," said Avner Shalev, the chairman of Israel's Holocaust memorial centre, Yad Vashem.


Officially recognised as a national hero by the Polish parliament last year as well as being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, Ms Sendlerowa only belatedly received the acclaim she deserved, living in relative obscurity until a decade ago. "I continue to have qualms of conscience that I did so little," she said in one of her last interviews at the nursing home in Warsaw where she spent her twilight years.


"She modestly says that she was just doing what any human being would do, but there's no other word for it apart from heroism," said Elzbieta Ficowska, one of the children spirited out of the ghetto. "The survival instinct is to save ourselves but she saved others."


The Warsaw Ghetto was established by the Nazis to pen the city's Jewish population pending deportation to concentration and extermination camps. Between 1941 and 1943, starvation, disease and deportations reduced its population from about 450,000 to 71,000. In 1943 the people took up arms in the first urban mass revolt against the Nazi occupation of Europe, an uprising that was brutally crushed.Once outside the ghetto's 10ft walls, topped with broken glass, the rescued children were farmed out to Polish foster parents, where they were provided with false identities and taught Polish and Christian prayers so they could fool prying Gestapo officers.


Yet Ms Sendlerowa was anxious that the rescued infants have the possibility of being reunited with their birth parents after the war so she copied each child's details on to two separate cigarette papers – a duplicate archive that she kept in two glass bottles buried in the garden. Sadly these records would ultimately serve little purpose for by the end of the war, many of the children's relatives had been slaughtered, most at the Treblinka, where an estimated 300,000 Jews were murdered in the summer of 1942 alone.


Ms Sendlerowa ran huge risks. One morning a squad of Nazi soldiers stormed into her house and carted her off to Gestapo headquarters, where she was tortured. The marks left by what she called "those German supermen" stayed on her body for the rest of her life. She would have been killed had her colleagues not managed to bribe Nazi officers and halt her planned execution. Although the German authorities plastered Warsaw with posters, announcing that Ms Sendlerowa had died by firing squad, she was in fact dumped in the woods, her arms and legs broken and unconscious, but still alive.


"People who stand up for others, for the weak, are very rare," Marek Edelman, the last surviving commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, told Polish television. "The world would have been a better place if there were more of them."


The quote "I continue to have qualms of conscience that I did so little," is a testament to the modesty we often see in people who take extraordinary risks to save their fellow humans According to her Wikipedia article Kansas made 10 March 2006 Irene Sendler Day (that being an Anglicisation of her name). Would not the world be a much better place if more people were like her?

I only hope that I have a fraction of her principles and her courage if I were ever to face a similar situation. She truly was an example of the very best that humanity has to offer.

31 comments:

Renegade Eye said...

Very nice post. Thank you for sharing.

Beaman said...

Heroine indeed. She had a lovely face.

beakerkin said...

Jams

Doing the right thing is its own reward. This may seem funny but fighting paper pushers may have been
her greatest obstacle.

In every group there are those who
cling to procedure. Only someone inside a vast government body could understand the tyranny of procedure.

Sarge Charlie said...

God speed Irena Sendlerowa, to think Al Gore won the peace prize, what a shame....

Maya said...

Not only the photo was taken beautifully but the info of this woman have more weight that a bravo is not enough.
Thanks for sharing your info.
Happy WW.

Maya said...

Not only the photo was taken beautifully but the info of this woman have more weight that a bravo is not enough.
Thanks for sharing your info.
Happy WW.

Maya said...

Not only the photo was taken beautifully but the info of this woman have more weight that a bravo is not enough.
Thanks for sharing your info.
Happy WW.

susiej said...

Thank you... That face... someone who would risk her life to smuggle children out of an unsafe place. Lovely woman.

CastoCreations said...

There were many special people like her who risked their lives to help others. I hope that her story is never forgotten and taught to children for all to remember.

YellowRose said...

Her life and story is proof that angels do indeed walk among us.

Napaboaniya said...

She was a great woman :)
Nice tribute..

Leonard said...

hope Irena Sendlerowa R.I.P!

anyway, happy WW!

r morris said...

In a day and age where the term hero is bandied around on such useless personages as football players and movie starlets, here is someone who deserves the term.

jmb said...

After reading Sarge Charlie, that Irene lost out on the Nobel Peace prize to Al Gore, I am even madder about that than I was before, which was quite mad.

Mariposa said...

I'm so proud of her...and she may be gone...but I'm sure many will live not only to remember her but to follow her acts of kindness and heroism. Nice tribute...Happy WW!

Nunyaa said...

And to think at times I have been so self absorbed with my own problems which amount to nothing when you read stories like this. Irena Sendlerowa is the epitome of a true angel. Thank you Jams, we should all be humbled by her life story.

shubd said...

What a shining example of courage and kindness .

The photo is beautiful too .
Thanks for sharing
Happy WW :)

Indrani said...

I read about her here in local papers too. A brave lady indeed. My salutations to her.

Nice tribute to her and a great post.

lareine said...

the world needs people like her... what a courageous woman... she's beautiful inside out... if only we could have more people like her...

WillThink4Wine said...

I'll bet her reward in Heaven is huge! Thank you for reminding me that people can make a difference, Jams.

Roland Dodds said...

An amazing woman and one whose heroism will hopefully never be forgotten.

FRIGGA said...

That's very impressive! And a wonderful tribute to a wonderful hero! :)

Emmyrose said...

Thanks for sharing this one. Amazing woman.

the suspect said...

i have always admired women who dared to defy odds to serve humanity. this is no different to what inspires me -- to give tribute to women who makes a difference & are never afraid to love, care, & be real.

my words are not enough to nonor such hero.

Raven said...

What a wonderful face she has! Thank you for sharing this story. Like you, I hope I would have such courage and nobility of soul.

Liz said...

A real heroine with a wonderful face. There do seem to have been many invisible heroes in amongst such evil.

CherryPie said...

Thank you for sharing this story.

What a truly wonderful person she was.

jams o donnell said...

Thanks everone. I'm glad you found this post interesting

starnitesky said...

What a wonderful person. Thanks for posting this.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Sarge and JMB - that Gore should have received the Prize when this incredible woman was in the running... !?
Gore's plans are going to cost lives around the world especially in the poorest countries and amongst the weakest.

jams o donnell said...

I may not be the climate change sceptic but I do feel she is a far worthier recipient than Gore