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This woman who used a disguise to save over 2500 Jewish children in WWII is a global inspiration

At just the young age of 29, the Polish Catholic woman went out of her way to rescue Jewish children from their dire living conditions.

This woman who used a disguise to save over 2500 Jewish children in WWII is a global inspiration
Cover Image Source: Irena Sendler (1910-2008) - Polish nurse and social worker who helped to save approximately 2,500 Jewish children from the Holocaust. Pictured: Irena Sendler in Warsaw, German-occupied Poland, in 1942. (Photo by Laski Diffusion/Getty I

World War II shook many parts of the world when the Holocaust almost dwindled the Jewish population. During those dreadful times, some real-life heroes came forward to help as many Jews as they could out of Nazi camps and ghettos. Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker in the Welfare Department of the Warsaw municipality, was only 29 years old when World War II broke out. Leveraging her position, Sendler passionately dedicated herself to saving the Jews trapped in Warsaw ghettos following the German occupation of Poland. Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, honored Sendler in their "Women of Valor" online exhibition, showcasing her inspiring legacy. 

Image Source:  Children in the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto. Photography. Around 1940. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) [Kinder im Warschauer Ghetto. Photographie um 1940.]
Image Source: Children in the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto. Photography. Around 1940. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) [Kinder im Warschauer Ghetto. Photographie um 1940]

Just when Sendler was successfully helping Jews in secret in Warsaw, the ghetto was sealed off in 1940 and nearly 400,000 people were driven to a small area allocated to the ghetto population. Thousands of people including Jews were packed up in a tiny area with poor hygiene, insufficient food and very little medical help available. Things worsened when these unfavorable living conditions led to the spread of epidemics and increased death rates. At her own risk, Sendler managed to enter the area by obtaining a permit to check the sanitary conditions. She instantly teamed up with Jewish welfare organizations and helped relocate several Jews to Warsaw's Aryan side. By 1942, Sendler became one of the key activists in the Council for Aid to Jews, "Zegota," with the underground name Jolanta. Despite thousands of Jews being killed, Zegota was focused on rescuing as many as possible, sheltering them and taking care of their medical expenses.

Image Source: Medical Examinations in the Warsaw Ghetto. Photography. Around 1940. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) [aerztliche Untersuchung von Kindern im juedischen Ghetto von Warschau. Photographie um 1940.]
Image Source: Medical Examinations in the Warsaw Ghetto. Photography. Around 1940. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images) [aerztliche Untersuchung von Kindern im juedischen Ghetto von Warschau. Photographie um 1940]

As per an article published by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Sendler and her network in Zegota rescued 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto between 1942 and 1943. Before the entire Warsaw ghetto was annihilated in September 1943, Sendler managed to send several Jewish children to the orphanages and religious institutes run by nuns across the country. She approached every family in the ghetto to give up their children so that they could find a safer place to spend the rest of their lives. The children were given new Polish names and forged identity papers before being sent to orphanages and institutes. Sendler made sure to keep a list of the children's original Jewish names so they could know their history later. When she was arrested in 1943, she destroyed all evidence of helping the Jews and narrowly escaped a death sentence when other activists got her out of it.

Image Source: Irena Sendlerowa attends a reception at which Polish children presented her with the Order of Smiles at Bonifraters Monks nursing home on April 11, 2007 in Warsaw, Poland. Nobel Peace Prize nominee Mrs Senderlowa is renowed for her efforts in rescuing an estimated 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. (Photo by Wojtek Laski/Getty Images)
Image Source: Irena Sendlerowa attends a reception at which Polish children presented her with the Order of Smiles at Bonifraters Monks nursing home on April 11, 2007, in Warsaw, Poland. Nobel Peace Prize nominee Mrs. Senderlowa is renowned for her efforts in rescuing an estimated 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. (Photo by Wojtek Laski/Getty Images)

Sendler lived in hiding for so long while continuing her rescue mission secretly. When the war was over, Poland’s Communist government began harassing, interrogating, imprisoning, and even executing the members of Zegota for wartime resistance.  Fortunately, Sendler and her comrades who rescued Jews during the war decided to stay silent. 60 years later, Sendler's act of valor was brought to light when three Kansas-based teenagers, Liz, Megan and Sabrina recorded the Polish nurse's history. While the girls were tracking Sendler, the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous pointed them to her. They met her in 2001 when she was in her nineties and living a destitute life with her daughter-in-law in Warsaw. Thanks to the teenagers, Sendler's heroic story which was unknown for decades is now inspiring the world.

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