“The opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference.” Elie Wiesel
The children called me Jolanta. My real name is Irena – Irena Sendler. I was born in 1910 in a small town to the southeast of Warsaw. My father was a doctor and one of the first Polish Socialists. Most of his patients were poor Jews. I learned from Father to care for the needs of other people, especially the children.
Then in 1939 my country was invaded by Germany. The Nazis were horribly brutal spreading violence and terror throughout my home town and Warsaw. I was a senior administrator for the Social Welfare Department at the time. Our job was to provide meals, financial aid, and other services for the orphans , elderly, the poor and the destitute. However, with the Germans here, we soon were needed to provide clothing, medicine and money for the Jews. We registered those people under fictitious Christian names and to avoid the Nazis’ inspections we often reported the families as being afflicted with very infectious diseases as typhus and tuberculosis.
But, conditions got worse for the Jews. In 1942 the Nazis herded hundreds of thousands of them into a 16-block area and then sealed it off from the rest of the city. We called it the Ghetto.
Well, I couldn’t just stand by and watch those people die. I became involved in the underground resistance movement, became one of the first recruits of Zegota. Our job was to rescue the Jewish children. Because I was issued a pass from the Epidemic Control Department, I could enter the Ghetto legally. I took food, clothing, and medicines to those poor starving people. But 5000 of them were dying each month and I then decided that I must help the Jewish children get out.
Several of my friends and co-workers wanted to help me. We smuggled the children in ambulances hidden in whatever was available. Gunnysacks, body bags, potato sacks, coffins, even a mechanic’s toolbox were used to hide the children. They had false documents with new identities awaiting when they arrived to safety.
I knew I could count on the Sisters and the churches to help me place the Jewish children. They were placed in homes, orphanages, and convents. None of them ever refused to take a child from me. I kept record of their original names and new identities in a jar that I kept buried under my neighbor’s apple tree. At last count there were 2500 names in that jar.
Oh sure, the Gestapo finally caught up with me in 1943. They broke my legs and my feet and threw me in prison but I didn’t tell them anything. I was sentenced to execution but one of my Zegota friends bribed one of the Germans and they called off my execution. I escaped from prison and spent the rest of the war running from the Gestapo.
After the war, I dug up that jar and tried to contact the names and reunite them with their parents. Most of the parents died in the Holocaust.
The children called me Jolanta.
In 1965 Irena Sendler was accorded the title of “RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS” and in 1991 was made an honorary citizen of Israel. She died in 2008 at age 98.
Written in 1st person narrative by larrypaulbrown from information credited to: