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  • Claire Jordan

The Children's Champion

A mention in (my) despatches today for this lovely warrior woman: Polish Resistance fighter Irena Sendler.

Before WW2 and the brutal occupation of her country, she lived and worked in Warsaw as a nurse and social worker.

When the Nazis came, she continued to do all she could for those in need, despite the 1941 announcement of the death penalty for any Pole (and their entire family) found to be helping the Jewish population.

Still, Irena secretly funnelled food, medicine and clothing into the Ghetto and babies and small children out. In October 1943, she was made chief of the children’s section of Zegota, the Polish Council to Aid Jews.

Through these years, Irena played a central part in smuggling an estimated 250 000 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto, providing them with false identity papers and begging, borrowing and stealing their passage to freedom with non-Jewish foster families, in convents and orphanages, really to anywhere in which the children could be safe from deportation.

The worse things became in the Warsaw Ghetto, the harder and faster she fought to get the little ones out.

Eventually, the occupying Nazis began to suspect her of significant involvement with the Polish Underground and she was arrested by the Gestapo in late 1943.

With seconds to spare, she managed to hide all traces of the documents detailing which children had been settled where, saving their lives all over again.

The Gestapo were enraged but she withstood every form of torture to which they subjected her and she never revealed anything about her work, who had helped her, or the locations of the thousands of small children she had saved from annihilation.

Finally, she was sentenced to death, only surviving after Zegota bribes to German officials secured her 11th hour release.

Bless her, even after the War, as her country fell into the icy clutches of Communism, she stayed on in Poland, resolutely continuing to work for the salvation of others.

Born in Warsaw in 1910, this amazing woman married three times, bore three children, and died in Warsaw at the age of 98, having made the world a much better place for almost a century.

We Will Remember Irena too.

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