They broke her legs and feet when they tortured her yet, still, she insisted, “What I did was not extraordinary.”
Using her role as a health care worker and member of Zegota, a secret organization set up by the Polish government in exile in London, Irena Sendler rescued more than 2,500 children during WWII. In 1943 when the Nazis were busy rounding up some 380,000 Polish Jews into ghettos and later into death camps, she smuggled them out in ambulances and suitcases, and through sewer pipe passages and under trolley cars.
After two years of clandestine work and relocating the children into adoptive families and orphanages in Britain, Irena was captured and horribly tortured by the Germans. But before they could carry out the order for her execution, she was rescued and brought to safety.
What’s even more amazing is how largely uncelebrated Irena remained for 74 years. It was not until 2007 that she was finally nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and nominated again in 2008. Before her death on May 12th, 2012, at the age of 97, she received the highest order of the Polish Government’s Order of the Cross.
Irena’s bravery and unfailing belief in the sanctity of all life is extraordinary, especially in a world where people are quick to draw political lines and reluctant to offer unconditional and unwavering service to others. Irena’s motherly compassion and love represent the highest ideals of our humanity.