Thursday, 23 January 2014

Irena Sendler

I remember going to the cinema to watch 'Schindlers List' and being sickened by the brutality of the German labour camps during the war. Oscar Schindler was immortalised forever for the numbers of Jewish people he managed to save.

A few days ago, I read a story about Irena Sendler who was made of strong stuff. Irena was born as Irena Krzyżanowska in 1910 in Warsaw to Dr. Stanisław and Janina Krzyżanowski, a physician. Her father died in February 1917 from typhus contracted while treating patients whom his colleagues refused to treat in fear of contracting the disease, among the  patients were many Jews.

After his death, Jewish community leaders offered her mother Janina, help in paying for Irena's education. Sendler studied Polish literature at Warsaw University. She opposed the ghetto-bench system that existed at some prewar Polish universities and defaced her grade card. As a result of her public protest she was suspended from the University of Warsaw for three years.

In August 1943, Sendler who was now known by her 'war name' of Jolanta was nominated by the underground to head its Jewish children's section as an employee of the Social Welfare Department, she had a special permit to enter the Warsaw Ghetto to check for signs of typhus – something the Nazis feared would spread beyond the Ghetto. During these visits, she wore a Star of David as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish people and so as not to call attention to herself.

Irena and her co-workers organized the smuggling of Jewish children out of the Ghetto. Under the pretext of conducting inspections of sanitary conditions during a typhus outbreak, Sendler and her co-workers visited the Ghetto and smuggled out babies and small children in ambulances and trams, sometimes disguising them as packages. Children were often placed with Polish families, the Warsaw orphanage or Roman Catholic convents.  Sendler and her  group of about 30 volunteers helped rescue about 2,500 Jewish children.

Debórah Dwork, the Rose professor of Holocaust history at Clark University in Massachusetts and author of “Children With a Star” said "She [Sendler] was the inspiration and the prime mover for the whole network that saved those 2,500 Jewish children. She and her co-workers buried lists of the hidden children in jars in order to keep track of their original and new identities. Irena assured the children that, when the war was over, they would be returned to Jewish relatives."

In 1943, Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo, severely tortured, and sentenced to death. Irena was saved by bribing German guards on the way to her execution. She was listed on public bulletin boards as among those executed. For the remainder of the war, she lived in hiding, but continued her work for the Jewish children. After the war, she and her co-workers gathered together all of their records with the names and locations of the hidden Jewish children and gave them to their colleague Adolf Berman and his staff at the Central Committee of Polish Jews. However, almost all of their parents had been killed at the Treblinka extermination camp or gone missing.

In 1965, Irena Sendler was recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Polish Righteous among the Nations. A tree was planted in her honour at the entrance to the Avenue of the Righteous at Yad Vashem. In 1965 Irena was also awarded the Commander's Cross by the Israeli Institute. In 2001 she was awarded the Commander's Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta. In 2003, Pope John Paul II sent Sendler a personal letter praising her wartime efforts. In 2003 she received the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest civilian decoration. In 2003 she received the Jan Karski Award, "For Courage and Heart" given by the American Center of Polish Culture. In 2007, she received the Order of the Smile an international award given by children, to adults distinguished in their love, care and aid for children. In 2009, Sendler was posthumously granted the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award. The award, named in honor of the late actress and UNICEF ambassador, is presented to persons and organizations recognised for helping children.

In 2007, Sendler was honoured by the Polish Senate. Polish President Lech Kaczyński stated
"she can justly be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize". The Polish government presented her as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. This initiative was officially supported by the State of Israel through its prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and the Organization of Holocaust Survivors in Israel residents. The authorities of Oświęcim (Auschwitz) expressed support for this nomination, because Irena Sendler was considered one of the last living heroes of her generation, and demonstrated a strength, conviction and extraordinary values against an evil of an extraordinary nature.

The Nobel Peace Prize 2007 was awarded to Vice President Al Gore. For a presenting a slide show on Global Warming. The controversial  'An Inconvenient Truth' is a documentary film made of Al Gore's slide show about global warming.   
In 2007, a group of global warming sceptics challenged the UK Government's distribution of the film in a lawsuit. Mr Justice Burton, ruled that 'An Inconvenient Truth' contained nine scientific errors. An Inconvenient Truth...Or Convenient Fiction? is an American documentary film by Steven F. Hayward, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Hayward set to address what he observed as inconsistencies in the film An Inconvenient Truth. Described as a "point-by-point PowerPoint rebuttal." In their review of the film sharing the inconsistencies of actual events when compared to the predictions of the Gore film, The American Spectator referred to the film as "a dose of reality."
Irena Sendler nee Krzyżanowska died in Warsaw on 12 May 2008, aged 98. Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory. Irena Sendler.

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