Apr. 11, 2012 at 5:05pmIrena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers

She saved lives of more than 2,500 Polish Jews

I love stories about the courageous men and women who resisted the Nazi’s tyranny in WWII and outwitted the enemy. And especially when it tells the story of a group of women like “Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers” which airs this Sunday evening at 11p.m. in Spokane on KSPS.

What a great story … this group of very young Polish women headed by Irena Sendlerowa (commonly known as Irena Sendler), is credited with saving the lives of more than 2,500 Jews, most were children, in German-occupied Poland in WWII.


A Los Angeles Times obituary for Irena Sendler describes how Irena, a Polish social worker, passed herself off as a nurse to sneak supplies and aid into (and children out of) the Warsaw Ghetto:

She studied at Warsaw University and was a social worker in Warsaw when the German occupation of Poland began in 1939. In 1940, after the Nazis herded the Jews into the ghetto and built a wall separating it from the rest of the city, disease, especially typhoid, ran rampant. Social workers were not allowed inside the ghetto but Sendler, imagining “the horror of life behind the walls,” obtained fake identification and passed herself off as a nurse, allowed to bring in food, clothes and medicine.

By 1942, when the deadly intentions of the Nazis had become clear, Sendler joined a Polish underground organization, Zegota. She recruited 10 close friends — a group that would eventually grow to 25, all but one of them women —and began rescuing Jewish children.

She and her friends smuggled the children out in boxes, suitcases, sacks and coffins, sedating babies to quiet their cries. Some were spirited away through a network of basements and secret passages. Operations were timed to the second. One of Sendler’s children told of waiting by a gate in darkness as a German soldier patrolled nearby. When the solider passed, the boy counted to 30, then  made a mad dash to the middle of the street, where a manhole cover opened and he was taken down into the sewers and eventually to safety. 

Sendler buried jars containing the real and assumed names of those rescued in the garden, so that they could be one day learn the names of their biological families after the war. When the war ended Sendler unearthed the jars and began trying to return the children to their families. Unfortunately, for most, there was no family left.

If you'd like to read the rest of the obituary, click here

This story, like many a story about women that have gone untold (hence the phrase “anonymous was a woman”) only came out in 1999 when four Kansas high school students wrote and performed “Life in a Jar,” a play about Sendler’s life. Everyone is familiar with the story of Oscar Schindler who saved about 1,000 Jews from certain death. But not many have heard this incredible story about Irena Sendler. 

Sendler was honored by the Polish Senate and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, the same year Al Gore won it for his slide show on global warming.

In this stunning documentary the true story, which was long suppressed in Communist Poland, is told by 95-year-old Irena Sendler herself. 

The show airs on Sunday, April 15 at 11 p.m. on KSPS in Spokane. 

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