In September 2011 I received an email about a lady called Irene Sandler. On reading the email I chose to research more about her and blog the fascinating details of her life. Unfortunately, the email was factually incorrect in many instances, but hopefully this page will reach people, who will pass it on.
She was born Irene Krzyzanowki in Warsaw on the 15th February 1910. Her father was a doctor who died of Typhus when she was only seven years old. As an adult she worked as a Social Worker and was aiding Jews from as early at 1939 when the German’s occupied Poland. Through her job she was able enter the Jewish Ghetto to ‘inspect’ for Typhus, and from there smuggle children out with new documents showing them to be Catholics to Polish families who brought them up, also Catholic convents raised the children and some priests also took children where they could. Irena wrote down each child’s name and who they went to so that in the future she could repatriate them with their families and she hid the names in a glass jars under a tree in a friend’s garden.
In 1943 she was arrested by the Gestapo, tortured, beaten and sentenced to death. The organisation of Żegota, also known as Konrad Żegota Committee which was a code-name for the Polish Council to Aid Jews. an underground resistance movement from 1942 to 1945, managed to bribe a guard who helped her escape execution and from then on she lived in hiding.
As Russia took over Poland she was persecuted by the communist Polish authorities for her relationship with the Polish Government in Exile.
In May 2011 PBS produced a film on her work which you can watch below on youtube, it’s about 1hr 45 mins long; here is the first one and all others follow on in usual youtube style:
In 1965, Sendler was recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous among the Nations. She also was awarded the Commander’s Cross by the Israeli Institute. Only in that year did the Polish communist government allow her to travel abroad, to receive the award in Israel.
In 2003, Pope John Paul II sent Sendler a personal letter praising her wartime efforts.
On 10 October 2003 she received the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest civilian decoration, and the Jan Karski Award “For Courage and Heart,” given by the American Center of Polish Culture in Washington, D.C.. She was also awarded the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta (November 7, 2001).
On 14 March 2007, Sendler was honored by Poland’s Senate. At age 97, she was unable to leave her nursing home to receive the honor, but she sent a statement through Elżbieta Ficowska, whom Sendler had helped to save as an infant. Polish President Lech Kaczyński stated she “can justly be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize” (though nominations are supposed to be kept secret). On 11 April 2007, she received the Order of the Smile as the oldest recipient of the award.
In May 2009, Irena Sendler was posthumously granted the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award. The award, named in honor of the late actress and UNICEF ambassador, is presented to persons and organizations recognised for helping children. In its citation, the Audrey Hepburn Foundation recalled Irena Sendler’s heroic efforts that saved two thousand five hundred Jewish children during the German occupation of Poland in World War II.
Sendler was the last survivor of the Children’s Section of the Żegota Council to Assist Jews, which she had headed from August 1943 until the end of the war.
Irena Sendler died in Warsaw on May 12, 2008. She managed to help 2,500 children escape to freedom.
In a letter to the Polish Government, Irena said: “Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory”