Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler was a Polish woman, a social worker, who, in the middle of World War II, in the middle of the worst killing in a country where the Germans would kill you if you tried to help a Jew, decided to save Jewish children trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto.

She couldn't save all of them. There were too many and the Germans were killing them too fast, but somehow she and her friends in the Polish Underground were able to save 2,500 Jewish Children.

This Sunday, April 19, CBS is showing a movie about her called The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler.

You can also learn more about her by visiting a website started by a group of school children in Kansas to keep alive the memory of what she did. Their project is called Life in a Jar, and its name comes from something Irena Sendler did so that eventually after the war the Jewish children she saved could know who they were. She made lists of the children's real names and put the lists in jars, then buried the jars in a garden, so that someday she could dig up the jars and find the children to tell them of their real identity.

Here's a short video about how the Kansas school children found out about Irena Sendler:

To learm more about Irene Sendler, I recommend the following cite, dedicated to making a documentary about her and the Poles who worked with her: In the Name of their Mothers: The Story of Irene Sendler. The film includes some of the last interviews she gave.


Anonymous said...

An Open Letter to The Nobel Peace Prize Committee

October 13, 2007

Irena Sendler recounts that if mothers waiting in the Ghetto for their death were unable to separate themselves from their children, whom only she was able to rescue, Irena Sendler would one day return to find an empty apartment. The families would already be on trains to Treblinka. Only then did Irena Sendler know for certain that no one in the world was able to save that child - that in a few hours a horrible death would await him or her in a gas chamber - because only she could have, and now it was too late.

No League of Nations, no humanitarian organization, no International Red Cross, no Catholic Church, no Pope, no association of Protestant Churches, no court, no government, no parliament, no president, no prime minister, no marshal, no king, no police, and no army was able to help these children; nor did they. No European nor world institution, no system of collective safeguards created to thwart the massive and genocidal murder of the innocent and defenseless was able to save these children; nor did it.

During World War II, in the geographic heart of Christian Europe, Europeans for years were murdering millions of people for racial reasons.

For the first time in history, Europeans were also murdering children en masse. Jewish and Gypsy children, like their parents, were starved to death, tortured, subjected to pseudo-scientific experimentation, were victimized by professional killing squads (Einsatzgruppen), were buried and burned alive, were gunned down, and foremost, were murdered in the gas chambers of death camps. In fact a certain constituency of the adult world came to the conclusion in those years that killing parents was not enough, that killing children was just as proper, and just as necessary. These people had at their disposal both the means and power to do so. And thus they killed over a million and a half children. These children were not murdered by lunatics, but by the organized, precise, and efficient machine of a totalitarian state.

Europe did not want, could not, and was not able to do anything about this. One part of Europe was unaware. Another part of Europe was ambivalent. Yet another part of Europe was helpless and powerless. Europe in general was guilty of looking the other way, of cowardice, and of a lack of imagination. Still another part of Europe was guilty of active participation in atrocities. The only help these children received came rather sporadically from a few, regular, unknown people who believed their lives were not worth more than the lives of these children; that is why they risked themselves. These people saved lives, but they also preserved the very fundamental values without which life has no meaning at all.

Irena Sendler, a thirty-year-old Polish woman from Warsaw, along with a group of co-conspirators, rescued the largest number of children during those years. Irena Sendler, without waiver, risked her life, and acted with bravery and efficiency to save them. She would place a band with the Star of David on her arm, walk through gates of the Ghetto, and thus would begin her fight with the most powerful extermination machine in human history. She would take Jewish children by the hand, and risking her own life, would secure not only their life, but also the lives of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It is necessary to remember this to understand the words of the Talmud: “He who saves one life, saves the entire world.”

Irena Sendler saved this world day-by-day, child-by-child, and the world didn’t even know it.

Finally, after more than six decades, there came a moment for the world to know who saved it. Irena Sendler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize – at ninety-seven years of age - as the last living representative of a small number of the epoch’s moral giants who acted precisely when Europe was at its moral nadir.

The world must know about Irena Sendler because the world will need her again, more than once. The world needs her constantly and continually. Wherever organizations, institutions, and collective safeguards against lawlessness and mass murder fail, Irena Sendler is essential. When racial, class, or religious hatred comes to power, and has the means of mass-murder at its disposal, everything fails except the will of a single individual and their determination to save human life at the cost of their own. Irena Sendler never fails.

Today we can only hope that there is an Irena Sendler of 2007 in Darfur, where an official UN report claims there are over a million children exposed to death, rape, and torture, without the protection of even a single humanitarian institution.

The nomination of Irena Sendler for the Nobel Peace Prize gave you the chance to recognize the universal message of peace embodied in her character and her work.

Yet after sixty years, you, the members of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, an honored European and world institution, failed to recognize the work of Irena Sendler as deserving of the highest distinction in service of the idea of peace. Saving the lives of over 2,500 Jewish children from certain death by Irena Sendler at a time when Europe was paralyzed by fear and powerlessness, and the punishment for helping even one Jewish child was death, did not merit distinction in your eyes.

You failed to recognize that in extreme situations, when peace is not only endangered but becomes a dead concept, if it is necessary to save innocent life, humanity can only count on Irena Sendler’s stand, and the bearing of those who think and act as she did, no matter the time and place.

You failed to recognize that this was the final chance to honor one of the last living persons who did the most for peace, not in a military or political sense, but entirely in the real-world sense, where matters of life and death of innocents actually take place when the world’s ethical compass is destroyed.

You failed to recognize that awarding Irena Sendler the Nobel Peace Prize would not award the past as much as it could be your stand for the future of the world.

That same world that Irena Sendler remembers from the Warsaw Ghetto: Did the World help me when I was saving these children? I walked the streets, crying over my helplessness…

In January, 2007, on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Irena Sendler said: The world has learned nothing from the lessons of World War II and the Shoah.

By your decision, announced on October 12th, 2007, you proved that you, as the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, do in fact belong to that same world that had understood little and had learned even less.

Paul Jedrzejewski

John Guzlowski said...

I received this note from Roman Solecki and thought I would share it:

We also watched this film and we liked it: acting was generally good and convincing, the
events described were true and believable. My private comment- and I'm very sensitive in this
domain: they should have mentioned that Irena Sendler's father was a PPS (a left-of-center
Polish Socialist Party) activist and that Irena Sendler joined PPS/WRN during the war. This
already predicted her attitude toward Jews. They were of course heroic people like Jan Karski
or Wladyslaw Bartoszewski whe did not belong to PPS. They were possibly members of
Christian Democrats( =Chadecja) another tolerant party (wasn't Gen.Wladyslaw Sikorski a
member of it?) or maybe they didn't belong to any political party. We shouldn't forget also
another heroic woman- Zofia Kossak-Szczucka. This great writer (The Crusaders) and a
vicious racist (probably mamber of right-wing ND=Endecja) risked her life helping Jews
even though she hated them.
But then again this film was not a documentary and the producers had of course limited time.

Anonymous said...



Strawberry Girl said...

Sir, I think that the greatest barrier to people ptogressing towards the ideal of moral integrity is fear. This lady was outstanding in her courage!! So admirable. There is a little old German lady that comes to church each week, weak in the eyesight and in hearing, yet she still comes. When I see her I give her a hug, because I admire her courage to keep going in life even when it's difficult. In fact that is one of the things facing many of the Jewish holocost survivors today is their obscurity in their feebleness. The first comment on this posts mentions the failure of the world to act in Darfur, it breaks my heart. Act, act, I wish I could act!! Yet I am here in the midst of the "Great Recession" and I find that I have very little resources, yet I still think that there is some way that I can act. It is fear as I said though that keeps us from doing what we should. Even feeding the homeless, here at my doorstep brings a certain amount of fear. Being a woman, I have fear of being hurt somehow by some unstable man that I tried to help. I did feed one man, but I know of several others camped by the river at this very moment. This lady, this post, has caused me to think. To think of important things. Thank you for posting it.