Monday, February 18, 2013

The Incredible Story of Irene Sendler


Every individual who was caught up in the Holocaust has an exceptional story, but the stories of 2,500 children who were spirited away from the Warsaw Ghetto are linked. A courageous Polish non-Jewish woman, Irena Sendler, managed to smuggle thousands of young infants and toddlers out of the ghetto, saving their lives.  

Irena Sendler was a young Polish social worker in 1939 when the Nazis invaded Warsaw. In 1942, in her capacity as a social worker, she was given clearance to enter the Warsaw ghetto where tens of thousands of Jews were imprisoned. Irena saw that the fate of these Jews was death -- either by starvation or by outright murder. She managed to convince thousands of parents to allow her to remove the children and send them into hiding.

Irena risked her life every second of every day as she smuggled the children out of the ghetto. She  sedated them and brought them out in body bags, under the seats on the tram that ran in and out of the ghetto and even inside workmen's tool boxes. All together she managed to remove 2,500 children from the ghetto and find homes in which they could be hidden.

One amazing aspect of Sendler's activities was her careful record-keeping. Sendler wanted to ensure that, at the end of the war, the children could be reunited with their families or, if not their families, at least be returned to their community. She listed each child's name, together with the family in which the child was placed, and hid the names in a jar which she buried in her yard.

Sendler was captured and tortured by the Nazi but she didn't reveal the names or locations of any of the children. An underground member bribed the Nazi prison guards to release Sendler and she herself spent the remainder of the war years in hiding.   

A unique project, the Lowell Milken Discovery Award, founded by a Jewish businessman, rewards students who create quality projects which depict the lives and actions of unsung heroes. One of the first projects, the Irena Sendler "Life in a Jar" project, has impacted on individuals and institutions throughout the world.  

Sendler's story was documented as a Lowell Milken Center Project and has been performed as a play before thousands of viewers. The story has impacted on school groups, museum audiences and many other people in venues throughout the world.  The story has also been reported by many news agencies which has brought the story to the world.

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