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Courage in the Face of Terror: The Story of Irena Sendler

Few young lives included in the 2,500 children who Irena managed to save. Image Source (

“If someone is drowning, you have to give them your hand. When the war started, all of Poland was drowning in a sea of blood, and those who were drowning the most were the Jews. And among the Jews, the worst off were the children. So I had to give them my hand.” -Irena Sendler

How can one lady managed to save 2,500 children?

Almost too untrue to be proven a fact but right in the very face of the earth, it happened. This is the story of a nurse who saved 2,500 Jewish children from the horrors of the Holocaust.

A Polish nurse/social worker who stood as the heroine of thousands of lives in times of terror, Irena Sendler, 4’11” tall, pictures of her resembles a very calm face and a determined individual. How can this lady save 2,500 lives amongst the heavily armed guards of the Nazi occupation? In what grounds did she found the courage to do such?

Few students did manage to write a letter to Irena asking for further details of her life and efforts along with the aforementioned question and Irena wrote them back:

“My parents taught me that if a man is drowning, it is irrelevant what is his religion or nationality. One must help him.”

Irena Sendler was born on February 15, 1910 in Warsaw, Poland but spent most of her youth in a town called Otwock, wherein present is a lively Jewish community. Times passed and a typhus epidemic broke out, affecting the people. It was then a time that Irena’s father, Dr. Stanislaw Krzyzanowski, devoted himself in taking care of the Jews suffering from the disease where he contracted from the patients. Unfortunately, Dr. Krzyanowski passed away. Irena was just a seven year old at that time, too young to be exposed on such things and too vulnerable from the burden of losing a father.

Together with her mother, they eventually returned to Warsaw, where Irena finished her schooling and later enrolled in Warsaw University.

In those times, present are the rules strictly dictating the separation of Jewish and non-Jewish students. They were not allowed to sit together in and out of the classroom and Irena, with her kind heart and nature, refused to obey the rules. She got suspended for a year by doing this. However, she still managed to continue and eventually complete her studies and by September 1939, just as when the Nazis took over Poland, Irena was already serving as a nurse/social worker.

Her kind-hearted efforts reflected on several people and these people who knew Irena say that it always has been her nature to help the needy and the deprived. The dedication to help others by her deceased father, her mother’s resilience and encouraging words made a heartfelt impression on Irena.

As soon as the reign of terror began, Irena started to make forged documents for the Jewish people. She also helped by offering shelter and food to the rapidly increasing persecuted counts of Jews. She, along with her co-workers falsified over 3,000 documents to help Jewish families escape. Irena got the infants out in the bottom of her tool box. As for the larger children, she carried them inside a sack in her truck. She also has a dog she trained to bark when Nazi guards roam the property. The Nazi guards didn’t want anything to do with the dog and its barking covered the children’s noises.

Unfortunately, in 1943, Irena got caught and was eventually sentenced to execution by firing squad. After the Nazi guards tortured her by breaking her arms and legs, she regained consciousness only to find that a guard had been bribed by her friends to help her escape from execution. The guard marked her off as executed and left her in the woods to be rescued.

Irena kept with her a record of all the names of the children she had smuggled out in a glass jar that she buried under an apple tree on her backyard. After the war, she tried to find any of the children’s parents hoping that some on them may have survived. Irena tried to reunite the children with their families. The children she helped got adopted or placed into foster family homes.

Irena Sendler Image Source (

Irena Sendler was given awards for all her efforts including the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest honor. In the year 2003, she won the Jan Karski award for Valor and Courage, in 2007, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and in April 2009, the Audrey Hepburn Foundation awarded her the 2009 Humanitarian Award.

Upon garnering numerous recognitions, Irena told the world, “Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory.”

Irena Sendler passed away on May 12, 2008 leaving a lasting memory of how a certain individual, together with her people, with the better intentions, managed to change a portion on the history of the world. There may be millions of threats present to hinder and destroy the human spirit but that didn’t manage to overcome Irena’s. She was a prey thriving vigorously through the claws of terror, an angel amongst demons and a great example of kindness, courage and selfless love.

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