Faces of Resistance: Women in the Holocaust
Irena Sendler (1910 – 2008)
Irena Sendler, a Righteous among the Nations, was born in Otwock, Poland. Her father was a physician with a socialist worldview whose patients came primarily from the town's Jewish population. Immediately following the invasion of Poland, Irena joined the Jewish relief effort, distributing food, caring for orphans, and providing financial aid to Jews whose property the Nazis had confiscated. During the occupation, Irena worked in the Social Department of the City of Warsaw and in this capacity was issued a special permit to visit the ghetto, ostensibly to prevent the spread of infectious illnesses. During her visits to the ghetto, she wore a Star of David on her arm as a sign of solidarity and supplied many Jews with clothes, medicine, and money. Irena succeeded in recruiting other Poles for her aid efforts in the ghetto, particularly women.
When Zegota, the Council for Aid to Jews in Poland (an underground Polish group that operated during the Holocaust-era in coordination with the Polish Government in Exile in London), was first established, it was only natural for her to join the organization.
Irena specialized in smuggling children out of the ghetto and finding them safe refuge with non-Jewish families in the area. Each of her workers was charged with responsibility for a number of blocks of buildings in which Jewish children had been placed. Irena herself was responsible for approximately ten apartments in which Jews were hidden. In order to locate them after the war, she recorded the names of all the children she smuggled out of the ghetto and the location of their hiding place, and hid the list in her garden.
In October 1943, Irena was arrested by the Gestapo. Despite being subject to torture, she refused to provide her interrogators with the information they sought and was sentenced to death. In exchange for a bribe that her friends paid to the Gestapo, she was released on the day she was supposed to be executed. However, according to the public bulletin boards, she had indeed been executed.
Irena now resumed her work underground, as she could no longer be seen in public. In 1991, Irena was named an honorary citizen of the State of Israel. She died in Poland in 2008.