It is easy for us to forget that in the middle of all the evil darkness that spread throughout Europe during WWII, that there were bright lights of good dotting the landscape. One that burned the brightest was certainly that of Irena Sendler, who saved thousands of Jewish children during the Holocaust and underwent numerous challenges during it as well.
Sendler was born in 1910 in Warsaw and was a Roman Catholic nurse and social worker. As the Nazis overtook Poland, she continued to live within Warsaw. In 1939 she began her efforts to help Jews, which was a huge risk. It was well known that assisting Jews in Poland and being caught for it would lead to the execution not only of one's self, but of the entire household. Nevertheless, Sendler and several helpers created more than 3,000 false papers to help Jewish families avoid being taken by the Nazis. Sendler held a position that allowed her to enter the Ghettos and check for typhus, and during these trips she would regularly smuggle out babies and small children. These children were usually placed in convents, orphanages, or with Polish families. In total, Sendler was responsible for saving around 2,500 Jewish children.
The Gestapo arrested her in 1943 and imprisoned her for some time. During this period, she was tortured severely for her actions and also sentenced to death. However, a colleague managed to bribe German guards on the way to her execution and she was released, though her name was listed on public bulletin boards in the country as one of the many who were executed.
Forced to live in hiding, Sendler continued her work as a savior for Jewish children and continued to help them until the end of WWII.
Sendler eventually received numerous awards. She received the Order of the White Eagle, which is Poland's highest civilian honor. She received the Commander's Cross by the Israeli Institute, the Jan Karski Award, and more. The Tree of Irena Sendler is at the entrance to the Avenue of the Righteous, and she is also one of the Polish Righteous among the Nations. She also received a personal letter of praise from Pope John Paul II. Sendler continued to be given awards until her death in 2008 at the age of 98, and continues to receive posthumous awards through the years. Simply put, she remains one of the greatest stories of heroism to come out of the Holocaust.
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