16 March 2007

Irena Sendlerowa, reluctant hero

It is rare indeed that even a slender ray of sunshine emerges from the greatest atrocity in history, the Holocaust of the Jews and Roma by the Nazis, yet occasionally one does. Such is the case with the recent honouring as a national hero by the Polish parliament of 97-year old Irena Sendlerowa.

Irena, a social worker with permission to enter the Warsaw ghetto, organized a small group that smuggled out Jewish children, changed their identities, and placed them with Polish families. In 1942 and 1943, they saved 2,500 babies and children by hiding them in ambulances, taking them out through passages that led out of the ghetto, and wheeling them out on trolleys in suitcases and boxes.

Irena did not forget their heritage. She recorded their names
on slips of paper which she sealed in glass bottles and buried in a friend's garden. After the war, the bottles were dug up and the lists handed to Jewish representatives so the children could be reunited with their families. Tragically, most of their relatives had perished in the camps. The children, at least, had survived.

Arrested by the Gestapo, Irena was beaten, her legs and feet broken so severely she has walked on crutches ever since. She rejects the title of "hero," saying she still feels guilty for "doing so little."
She is a hero, nonetheless, a humble, but truly remarkable hero, and she has quite rightly been nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

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