Irena Sendler: Mother of the Children of the Holocaust / Mary Skinner's film: Irena Sendler–In The Name Of Their Mothers
Mother of the Children of the Holocaust
By Anna Mieszkowska
Foreward to English edition
By Alex Storozynski
I want to let you know about the English edition of this
book about a true Polish Hero, Irena Sendler.
All the best,
After Germany invaded Poland in 1939 to carry out Adolf Hitler's Final Solution, the Nazis initiated the death penalty for any Pole, and their entire family, that helped Jews. Gambling against these odds of life or death was Irena Sendler, a tiny Polish woman who stood less than five feet tall, but whose temerity towered over those around her. Sendler instilled bravery into a secret network of Poles, convincing them to risk the lives of their loved ones to rescue the children of their Jewish neighbors.
The Germans ordered a wall to be built around the Warsaw Ghetto and corralled 400,000 Jews inside. The overcrowded, starving masses awaited deportation to concentration camps. After an outbreak of typhus, the Germans wanted no physical contact with Jews, so Sendler persuaded the Nazis to allow her to enter the ghetto to improve sanitary conditions to stop the spread of disease. Her real mission was to sneak out Jewish children under the noses of their German tormentors. One slip up for Sendler meant that she and the children would be shot on the spot. Yet Sendler and her couriers shuttled in and out of the ghetto trying to convince Jewish mothers and fathers to give their children a chance to escape. They offered no guarantees that they would make it out alive.
The children did not want to leave their parents, and they were often dragged away kicking and screaming in terror. Some of them were squeezed into boxes, or stuffed into burlap sacks to be smuggled out of the ghetto, while a barking dog was brought along to drown out the cries of the whimpering children. Others were hidden on empty tramcars, or dragged through basements and sewers, or through the back door of a court building that straddled the ghetto walls.
Anna Mieszkowska has done a great service documenting this important chapter of Holocaust history. Mieszkowska allows Sendler to tell the story in her own words, and explain how a clandestine network of Poles was set up to handle the children that escaped. It took at least ten Poles for every Jewish child that was saved. Once in Christian hands, the children were fed, clothed and given a new home. They were taught to pray in Polish in case they were stopped and questioned by Germans. They were given Christian names and forged birth certificates provided by priests. Yet their true identities were preserved on slips of paper, so that they could be returned to their parents after the war.
The commitment that these rescuers took was monumental in light of the danger that they
faced. Compare this to the world's reaction to today's human tragedies. Many of us donate to charities. But how many of us have been willing to house a homeless person from hurricane Katrina, a refugee from the Haitian earthquake, or the genocide in Darfur? And there is no death penalty for that.
Irena Sendler and her cohorts were not angels, but their actions were divine. By 1942, they learned that they were not alone, and that the Polish underground, along with the Polish government in exile in London had established the Council to Aide Jews, code named Zegota. Sendler was put in charge of Zegota's children section. At one point, she was captured and German Gestapo goons crunched her legs into a vice and smashed her bones with hammers, trying to get her to reveal the names of the children and helpers. She did not break, and after three months, the Polish underground helped her to escape.
I had the honor of interviewing Sendler in 2007, the year before she died. There was a grass roots movement to nominate her for the Nobel Peace Prize, but she brushed off her heroism as if it were nothing, saying: "If someone is drowning, you have to give them your hand. When the war started, all of Poland was drowning in a sea of blood, and those who were drowning the most were the Jews. And among the Jews, the worst off were the children. So I had to give them my hand."
Sendler was 97 years old when I spoke with her and she was outraged by Holocaust deniers such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "Ridiculous," she said. "He should educate himself. Either he is not intelligent or has another intention. He must be saying this on purpose because there is no way an intelligent person could not know this."
Learn more about Irena Sendler:
There was a huge turn out November 7, 2011 at Buffalo's Canisius College to view Mary Skinner’s documentary “Irena Sendler–In The Name Of Their Mothers". The director of the film, Mary Skinner, was there to answer questions following a screening of the film which was a more complete version of the PBS version. The film is both inspirational and heart-rending, and should not be missed.
Irena Sendler–In The Name Of Their Mothers