Jolanta & Her 2,500 Kids : The True Story of Irena Sendler
Irena Krzyzanowska was born in Poland on February 15, 1910. She was raised by her Catholic parents to respect and love people regardless of their ethnic background or social status. Her father, a physician, died from typhus in 1917. He was the only doctor in who would treat the poor Jewish victims of this tragic disease. He told seven-year-old Irena, "If you see someone drowning you must try to rescue them, even if you cannot swim." In 1939 the Nazis swept through Poland and imprisoned the Jews in ghettos, where they were first starved and finally murdering them in killing camps. Irena was a social worker and saw the Jewish people drowning. She resolved to do what she could to rescue the children. With a network of brave Poles, mostly women, she smuggled 2,500 children out of the Warsaw ghetto and hid them safely. Using the code name of "Jolanta," Sendler took great risks-obtaining forged papers for the children, disguising herself as an infection control nurse, and diverting German occupation funds for the support of children in hiding. She entered the Warsaw ghetto, sometimes two or three times a day, and convinced Jewish parents to surrender their children to her. Sendler gave the babies sedatives and smuggled them past Nazi guards in gunny sacks, boxes, and coffins. She helped the older children escape through the sewers, secret openings in the walls, the courthouse, and churches. She and her network used any clever means they could think of to evade the Nazis. Once outside the ghetto walls, Sendler gave the children false names and forged documents, and placed the children in convents, orphanages, or with Polish families. Her hope was to return their Jewish identities and reunite them with their families after the war. She kept tissue paper lists with the child's real name, their families' names, and the false "Polish" names. She saved the lists in glass jars and buried them under an apple tree. In 1943, Irena Sendler was arrested, tortured, and sentenced to death by the Nazis. She would not divulge the location of the lists nor her Polish underground contacts. At the last moment, a Nazi guard was bribed and her freedom secured. She bore the scars and disability of her torture for the rest of her life. Irena married and her story was buried and forgotten for many years. Her courage and resourcefulness was recognized by Israel in 1965 when she was awarded a medal. Then Irene Sendler was discovered by three teens from Kansas in 1999. They were working on a National History Day project and her story went viral when they discovered she was still alive, ninety years old, living with relatives in an apartment in Warsaw. She passed away on May 12, 2008, at the age of 98. Her story reminds us that one person can make a difference.