Irena Sendler

15 Feb 1910
12 May 2008
Social Worker
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Irena Sendler , (15 February 1910 – 12 May 2008),was a Polish nurse, humanitarian, and social worker who served in the Polish Underground in German-occupied Warsaw during World War II, and was head of the children’s section of Żegota,the Polish Council to Aid Jews , which was active from 1942 to 1945.

Assisted by some two dozen other Żegota members, Sendler smuggled approximately 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and then provided them with false identity documents and shelter outside the Ghetto, saving those children from the Holocaust. With the exception of diplomats who issued visas to help Jews flee Nazi-occupied Europe, Sendler saved more Jews than any other individual during the Holocaust.

The German occupiers eventually discovered her activities and she was arrested by the Gestapo, tortured, and sentenced to death, but she managed to evade execution and survive the war. In 1965, Sendler was recognised by the State of Israel as Righteous among the Nations. Late in life, she was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest honour, for her wartime humanitarian efforts.

After the war, Sendler was imprisoned from 1948 to 1949 and brutally interrogated by the communist secret police  due to her connections with Poland’s principal resistance organisation, the Home Army (AK), which was loyal to the wartime Polish government in exile. As a result, she gave birth prematurely to her son, Andrzej, who did not survive. Although she was eventually released and agreed to join the communist party (PZPR),her ties to the AK meant that she was never made into a hero.In fact, in 1965 when Sendler was recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Polish Righteous among the Nations, Poland’s communist government did not allow her to travel abroad at that time to receive the award in Israel; she was able to do so only in 1983. She was later employed as a teacher and vice-director in several Warsaw medical schools, and worked for the Ministries of Education and Health.She was also active in various social work programs. She helped organize a number of orphanages and care centers for children, families and the elderly, as well as a center for prostitutes in Henryków. However, she was forced into early retirement for her public declarations of support for Israel in the 1967 Israeli-Arab War (countries of the Soviet-controlled Eastern Bloc, including Poland, broke off diplomatic relations with Israel in the aftermath of this war).Sendler resigned her PZPR membership following the events of March 1968 in Poland.

In 1980 she joined the Solidarity movement.

Sendler lived in Warsaw for the remainder of her life. She died on 12 May 2008, aged 98, and is buried in Warsaw’s Powązki Cemetery.

 

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