Humanitarian’s legacy of inspiration remains strong

The other day I watched a DVD about a courageous young woman who, during the horrors of the Second World War, helped rescue more than 2,500 Jewish children from the German-occupied Warsaw ghettos.

Irena Sendler, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 93, was a social worker at the time. She helped to organize a system of providing the children with false identity documents and transporting them to homes where they would be safe. She and her co-workers also buried lists of the hidden children in jars in order to keep track of their original and new identities. The plan was that, when the war was over, they would be returned to Jewish relatives.

According to the web site History’s Heroes, from the outbreak of the war, Sendler was always concerned about the plight of the Jewish people. She risked her life by giving them food and shelter. At the time of the creation of the Warsaw Ghetto, she was working for the city’s health and care department as a nurse and social worker.

“Sendler organized and directed a children’s rescue group amongst her colleagues, to smuggle Jewish children from the Ghetto. The task was momentous. Behind the high walls enclosing the Ghetto, the people were packed together in appalling conditions. They smuggled out the children in many ingenious ways (in tool boxes, in coffins, through churches and cellars) and arranged for them to be taken to emergency safe houses.”

The risk of execution was always a frightening reality, but it never deterred Sendler from boldly moving forward with her mission.

Eventually, the Nazis did learn about her efforts, and she was arrested in 1943. She was tortured and sentenced to death.

According to History’s Heroes, during her interrogation, they broke her legs and feet but she refused to reveal any names. “On the way to her execution she escaped, with the help of friends, and went into hiding.”

Watching the film, (The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler), I was struck by the bravery of Sendler. In spite of unimaginable surroundings when people lived in constant fear for their lives, she pressed on with a single-minded commitment and devotion to her cause. For Sendler, there simply was no other choice – these children needed to be rescued and that was that. In spite of the reality that such work could cost her her own life, she didn’t waver.

It’s always inspiring to learn of such people down through history, and obviously there were many like her during those terrible years who put their own lives on the line in their struggles to help others.

When the war was over Sendler passed the list of the children’s names to the Central Committee of Jews in Poland. Sadly, most of their parents had been murdered in the Treblinka death camp, where approximately 777,000 people were transported. The list was taken to Israel where it was copied many times.

After the war, Sendler reportedly went on to live ‘an ordinary life’. Clearly, her life and her profoundly moving legacy were anything but ordinary. And like a true hero, Sendler even indicated that she didn’t feel like she did enough. Neither did she wish for any acclaim.

She was honoured, however, but she had to wait a long time to collect an award given to her by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. She was one of the first to be given the ‘Righteous Gentiles’ honour for wartime heroics, in 1964. The Communist regime in Poland would not give her a passport and she had to wait until 1984 to collect it.

And as mentioned, amazingly, in spite of her selfless efforts to help others, she somehow felt she should have done more. Such an attitude, when considering the incredible difference she made in so many lives, is hard to understand. But it offers us a closer look into the heart of an amazing human being.

“I continue,” she said, “To have pangs of conscience that I did so little.”

editor@reddeerexpress.com

Just Posted

UPDATE: Red Deer RCMP arrest man involved in fatal hit and run

RCMP flew to Nipawin, Sask. to arrest Tosh Vertraeten

Pop Evil hits the stage at Bo’s Nov. 25th

Acclaimed band is touring in support of self-titled disc released early this year

Oh What a Night! celebrates iconic American legends

Frankie Valli and Andy Williams honoured during Red Deer show

Red Deer Lights the Night gets residents into the holiday spirit

Free winter festival is on Saturday, Nov. 17th from 4 to 7 p.m.

First Nation marks ‘milestone’ land deal at Alberta ceremony

Lubicon Lake First Nation Chief Billy-Joe Laboucan signed treaty last month

Commercial trucks banned from left lane of Coquihalla

B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation has introduced a new program that hopes to prevent accidents and closures on the Coquihalla Highway.

Canadians more prepared for weather disaster than financial one: poll

RBC recommends people check their bank app as often as the weather app

Supreme Court hears case on migrant detainees’ rights to challenge incarceration

Currently, migrants who do not hold Canadian citizenship can only challenge detention through an immigration tribunal or a judicial review.

Canada Post issues new offer to employees as eBay calls on Ottawa to end strikes

Ebay is calling on the federal government to legislate an end to the Canada Post contract dispute, warning that quick action is needed to ensure retailers don’t lose out on critical Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

No G20 member has climate plan strong enough to meet Paris targets: report

Canada’s push to be a world leader in the fight against climate change may be hampered by its distinction for producing the most greenhouse gas emissions per person among the world’s 20 largest economies.

City of Wetaskiwin didn’t apply utility hikes to bills

Clerical financial error discovered by Wetaskiwin city council

Black Panther claw, Power Rangers blade among 2018’s ‘worst toys,’ safety group says

The World Against Toys Causing Harm organized announced its 46th annual list in Boston on Tuesday

What now for Calgary, Canada and Olympic Games after 2026 rejection?

Calgary, along with the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., made Canada a player in the international sport community

Most Read