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Wednesday, 19 January 2022 12:40

Irena Sendlerowa - True Holocaust Heroine Dies At The Age Of 98

Irena Sendler the unsung heroine of World War II died quietly on May 12, 2008.   The following is a glimpse into the life and acts of heroism of Irena.

Irena Sendler was born in 1910. Her father was a socialist and a doctor in Otwock, a small town approximately 15 miles southeast of Warsaw. She was greatly influenced by her father who was one of the first Polish Socialists. As a doctor, his patients were mostly poor Jews.

In October 1942, when in German-occupied Poland the Council for Aid to Jews - codename "Zegota" - was organized by the Polish Underground, Irena was one of its first recruits. Thirty-two years old, at the time, she was a  Senior Administrator in the Warsaw Welfare Department.

During the Second World War, Irena Sendler wore a star armband as a sign of her solidarity with the Jewish people. As a health care worker, Irena had access to the Warsaw Ghetto. Prior to the war Irena worked in the canteens in Warsaw providing meals, financial aid and other services for the elderly, the poor and orphans, during the war Irena used the same canteens to assist the Jews who were in great need providing them with clothing, medicine and money. She recruited at least one person from each of the ten centers of the Social Welfare Department of the city of Warsaw, and with their help, Irena successfully smuggled almost 2,500 Jewish children to safety and gave them temporary, new identities.

Irena Sendler accomplished her incredible act of heroism with assistance from the church. The children were given false identities and then with the assistance of nuns were placed in orphanages, homes and convents throughout Poland. Irena carefully recorded the children’s original names and their new identities in coded form and placed them in jars which were buried beneath an apple tree in a neighbour’s back yard across the street from German barracks. It was her hope to someday dig up the jars and locate the children she had saved and inform them of their true identity and their past.

The Germans soon became aware of Irena's activities, and on October 20, 1943 she was arrested and imprisoned by the Gestapo. Irena Sendler ended up in Pawiak Prison when the owner of one of her meeting places revealed her identity while being tortured. Irena remained in prison until fellow members of Zegota finally saved her from a death sentence. She escaped from prison but spent the rest of the war being pursued by the Gestapo.

In 1965 Irena was accorded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem organization in Jerusalem and in 1991 she was made an honorary citizen of Israel. In 2003 she was honoured for her bravery and presented with the Jan Karski award for valour and courage.

She was also later nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

As the President of the Canadian Polish Congress I would like to extend my condolences to Irena’s family and acquaintances. Irena Sendler was a true humanitarian and has left behind a legacy for others to learn from and follow. Through her actions and bravery she enabled not only the survival of hundreds of Jewish children but also of the generations of their descendants.


Wladek Lizon

National President - Canadian Polish Congress

For more information regarding the life and impact of Irena Sendler please see: