Engaging Culture

When Politics Trumps Real Achievement

Irena Sendler died last May.  She was a Polish Catholic social worker during World War II, where she worked in the Warsaw Ghetto as a plumbing/sewer specialist.  Knowing the Nazi plans for the Jewish population, she started smuggling out infants in the bottom of her toolbox and larger children in burlap sacks.  She even trained her dogs to bark when they saw Nazi soldiers – which also covered the infants crying.  Somehow, she managed to smuggle out 2,500 Jewish children, and then provided them with false documents and hiding them in individual or group children’s homes outside the ghetto. In 1943, Irena was arrested by the Gestapo, severely tortured, and sentenced to death.  Grateful Jews barely saved her by bribing German guards on the way to her execution.  Once paid, the guards left her in the woods, unconscious and with broken arms and legs.  She was listed on public bulletin boards as executed.

For the rest of the war, she lived in hiding, but continued her work for the Jewish children.  Before she was arrested, she kept the children’s names carefully documented in  glass jars she kept in her back yard.   After the war, she dug up the jars containing the children’s identities and attempted to return them to their parents. However, almost all of their parents had been executed at the Treblinka extermination camp.

She died last May, virtually unknown, except for a play on her life called “Life in a Jar,” written after Kansas students found her story in a magazine.

In 2007, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  But she lost.

Al Gore won for his slide show on global warming.


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  1. Phil… This is a powerful story and testament to real, genuine, love and faith. I had never heard of Irena Sendler and just reading your post about a snippet of her life… it paints such a vivid picture. And if it’s true about Al Gore beating her out of the Nobel Peace Prize… (I’ll have to look that up for myself) then that is a very sad commentary.

    Allen Paul Weaver III
    Author, Transition: Breaking Through the Barriers

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