When the Jews were persecuted by the Nazis during WWII, a woman in Poland knew she had to help, even if that meant endangering her own life. During that period, she helped over 2,500 children before she was arrested and her secret was exposed.
Irena Sendler, born in Poland, was taught by her father to help people regardless of religion and nationality. She grew up and became a nurse, working as a social worker in the Warsaw Social Welfare Department. According to the Newsner, while she was a Christian, she decided to help Jewish families when the Jews were in danger after the Nazis created the Warsaw Ghetto.
Sendler joined Zegota, an underground organization that aimed at rescuing Jews, even though she knew this would put her own life at risk. Sendler and her colleagues helped Jewish children to escape, and she even visited many Jewish families in order to help their children.
To help them, she would have them pretend they were ill and then bring them to hospitals. She would hide them in coffins, suitcases, and garbage bags as the surveillance outside the ghetto increased. She saved more than 2,500 children and hid a list of all the children in a neighbor’s garden before her secret activities got out.
Sendler was arrested and sent to prison, where she was tortured and had both of her arms broken. Nevertheless, she refused to give in and was sentenced to death.
Fortunately, her allies bribed a soldier in the prison, and she was rescued. From then on, she lived under a false identity. The list of children was given to a rescue organization to help reunite the families after the war ended.
Speaking to Sydsvenskan, she said, “My hatred of the German occupiers was stronger than my fear. In addition, my father had taught me that if you see a man drowning, you must try to save him even if you cannot swim. At that time, it was Poland that was drowning.”
“The reason why I rescued children was because of the way I grew up. I was brought up to believe that a person must be rescued when drowning, regardless of religion and nationality,” she added.
After the war ended, those who were rescued did not forget her. “Now both the children and grandchildren of those I rescued come and see me,” she said.
Sendler passed away in May 2008, in Warsaw. She was 98 years old.