Monday, May 12, 2008

Irena Sendler, Oskar Schindler of Warsaw Ghetto, Dies

[edited 10:15 a.m. EDT]

Irena Sendler who saved approximately 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto died at age 98. [According to Deborah Dwork she was personally responsible for saving about 400 children herself and being the "prime mover" for the saving of the rest.]

It has been said of her that, had Poland had better public relations, Oskar Schindler would have been known as the "Irena Sendler of Germany."

There is a nice obit for her in the New York Times. In it she praises the bravery of Jewish mothers in the ghetto:
"Here I am, a stranger, asking them to place their child in my care. They ask if I can guarantee their safety. I have to answer no. Somethimes they wold give me their child. Other times they would say come back. I would come back a few days later and the family had already been deported."
May her memory and their bravery be for a blessing.


Anonymous said...

Whilst we all know that events like the holocaust can bring out the very worst in people, it is also true that in extremely rare cases it can bring out the very best. Had there been no holocaust, Irena Sendler would have passed away quietly in Warsaw known only to a few friends and relatives as perhaps “a nice old lady”.

Whilst she is compared to Oscar Schindler, I have to say that as much as I admire Schindler and respect what he did, I don’t think that for sheer bravery and selfless heroism he (and his wife Franciska who is often overlooked) can be compared with Sendler.

It is probably wishful thinking but I would like to believe that if I were in Schindler’s shoes I would have at least tried to act as he did. Blackmail, bribe, beg, do whatever it took to save as many lives as I could.

However even in my wildest imagination I cannot fathom even attempting what Sendler did. With a family of her own to worry about, she went into the Ghetto, and at constant risk to her own life, bluntly told Mothers that they were going to die and that the only vague chance their children had of survival was to give them up. She devised numerous ways of smuggling the children out, arranged families (who were themselves under threat of death) or convents to look after them. Finally she survived a brutal Nazi torture session without ever divulging information that would betray the children or those that helped her. Even after the war she was lucky to survive due to her association with the Polish AK.

At a time when sports stars or American Idol contestants are referred to as heroes, it is good to remember what true heroes are. It is also sad, however, that there will always be times when true heroes such Sendler, Schindler, or the Rwandan Hutu Paul Rusesabagina are called for.

Irena Sendler RIP.

Roman Werpachowski said...

In 1968, Sendler's daughter was persecuted at Warsaw University for the fact that her mother helped the Jews. (J.T. Gross mentions this fact in "Fear").

Unknown said...

a fitting tribute to unusual courage. Image the courage -- and hopelessness -- that occurred on the other side of such "transactions." To give up your child to a stranger, with the faint hope that such an act would be the only chance for your child to survive, even though you know you would never see them again... And to knowingly risk your own life, for the sake of total strangers, who most around you would say deserve no sympathy let alone heroics. It is sad to think that such decency in extremis is so very rare.

Laurie said...

Irena Sendler should have received the Nobel Peace Award for her faith in knowing that every life is precious and valuable and for her source of strength in helping to save many. She was recognized before she even did this selfless deed by The Father. The world needs more Irena Sendlers. We all need to risk our lives for the lives of others. She will always have a special place in my heart and I wish that I could have had the honor and the pleasure of meeting her. I hope to one day.