THE GOOD MUST WIN!
‘She saved 2.5 thousand children, risking her life, at least 2.5 thousand times, such attitudes and such people should be reminded to others’ – it was how the Spokesman of Children’s Rights Marek Michalak argued the need that the year 2018 should be the Year of Irena Sendlerowa. On the 10th anniversary of her death, Seym accepted this proposition.
She wrote about herself: I had a difficult, poor childhood, tragic youth and now I have hard life at the old age’. Despite or maybe just as a result of her war occupation experiences, he had never wanted to talk about the war with anybody who had not experienced it, or seen what she had (and she saw a lot, among the others, when Janusz Korczak was going from an Orphanage with children to death. This last road was lasting four hours), as ‘nobody will understand what the war is’.
A witness of history
Irena Stanisława Sendlerowa with her surname Krzyżanowska from home (during the war occupation she took on the pseudo-name ‘Jolanta’) was born on 15 February 1910 in Warsaw. During the Second World War she worked as a manager of children’s report of the Council Help to Jews ‘Żegota’. She organized a lot of people and institutions, and, together with them, she brought help to Jewish children from ghetto.
In October 1943 she was arrested. Despite tortures in the headquarter of Gestapo at Szuch Alley, she was imprisoned for 100 days on Pawiak, betraying nobody or giving out no information. During the Warsaw Uprising she was serving as a nurse on Mokotów.
After the war she worked, among the others, in the social care, organizing orphanages, social care centres for the elderly and care houses. She died on 12 May 2008.
Fortitude of the spirit
Her unusual heroic acts were influenced by her upbringing, which she got at home, and from her parents: her dad died at the age of 40, after getting infected by typhoid from his ill patients, whose life he had rescued with great devotion, as one of very few Warsaw doctors.
During her studies, when the so-called desk’s ghetto was introduced and in evaluation books of students on the right side a stamp informed about ‘the Aryan side, the right side for Poles’, ‘left side for the Jews’, Sendlerowa consequently used to sit on the left side in order to show her solidarity to her Jewish schoolmates. She defended her beaten Jewish mates and in the act of a protest she voluntarily crossed out the aforementioned stamp, for which she was punished with suspension in students’ rights for period of 3 years.
During the war not only did she save children. She was bringing anti-typhoid vaccines to ghettos. She was working actively. As the only person of many people, she got an order to accompany a man brought to ghetto, who was to see and believe the tragic situation being there. Later she found out that it was Jan Karski.
‘How many mums can one have?’
How were children saved? The basic matter was getting a birth certificate (for adults an authentic identity card), as without this document it was impossible to get even ration cards.
Another matter was choosing a way of getting a child out of ghetto. Little kids were taken out through a court building which had two entries (from the side of ghetto and from the Aryan side), then they were transported by ambulance, fire engines or tramways.
Some children were smuggled through house basements bordering with buildings on the Aryan side. Sometimes sewage pipes were used as escape ways. Babies were sedated and hidden in special cases with openings. Older children were taken out under coats of firemen and a child’s bare feet were put into a fireman’s boots…
Irena mentioned that once she was transporting a crying little child to new carers. At one moment he asked he with tears: ‘Miss, how many mums can one have, as I am being taken to the third one?...’.
‘Jars’ of Sendlerowa
In 1999 a history teacher Norman Conrad from Uniontown (Kansas) announced a competition in which he encouraged his students to write a drama play entitled: ‘Life in a jar’. Its title refers to a way in which in 1944 Irena Sendlerowa and Jadwiga Piotrowska (she assigned data of children as she had a writing machine) hid a file of Jewish children, thanks to which after the war they found out about their families. It was how a legend was created, as in fact there did not exist a jar, but two bottles buried in the ground under an apple tree on a possession yard at 9 Lekarska street. A daughter of Sendlerowa – Janina Zgrzembska says that jars have been placed on the grave of her mum till today.
The play based on facts from life of Irena Sendlerowa has been performed many times in the United States, Canada and in Poland, and the students arrived in our country. Popularity of the play led to creating a foundation ‘Life in a jar’, promoting the attitude of the main heroine.
Among many distinctions of Irena Sendlerowa what should be mentioned is: the medal ‘A just person among the World Nations’; The Order of the White Eagle; the title of Honourable Heroine of the capital city Warsaw. However, she considered the Order of Smile as the most important one and awarded to her by children, as she used to emphasize that the First World War had been the first war addressed against children!
Following Irena Sendlerowa on the streets of Cracow
Following Irena Sendlerowa, one can go sightseeing Warsaw but also guides in Cracow will willingly tell us a lot about this person (2.5 thousand saved Jewish children), relating her to Oskar Schindler (about 1.1 thousand saved Jews). Sendlerowa was saying herself that during the war occupation she had been to Cracow twice. Those journeys to Cracow were connected with her activity in ‘Żegota’.
At 11 Jagiellońska Street in Cracow, on one of tenement houses there is a tablet commemorating the headquarter of the Council of Help to Jews. The inscription reminds passer-bys that ‘in this house in the years 1943-45 the Council of Help to Jews ‘Żegota’ of the Polish Underground Country had its headquarter, to whom many thousand Jews owe their survival of the war exterminations at the price of life of thousand Poles’. The tablet was unveiled by the last living participant of the ‘Żegota’ Władysław Bartoszewski….
Irena Sendlerowa personally knew the organizer of the Cracovian branch of this institution – Stanisław Dobrowolski. Establishing the Cracovian branch ‘Żegota’ took place a few days before the bloody liquidation of the ghetto on Podgórze, which had happened on 13 and 14 March. In 1979 the Yad Vash Institute decided to grant the title to Stanisław Dobrowolski ‘Righteous one among the Nations of the World’.
The fact that cultivating tradition like wearing a traditional attire, which is the Cracovian attire, during religious ceremonies in the Sendlerów family was very important, is proved by her memories – she remembers when, being dressed up in the Cracovian attire, she was shedding flowers, when going with other children in church processions.
The route of Irena Senlderowa and Sokar Schindler is on the website: www.krakowianka-przewodnik.pl/dla-grup-szkolnych#1-szlak-sprawiedliwych-wsrod-narodow-swiata-irena-sendler-tadeusz-pankiewicz-i-oskar-schindler.
She had thought till the end of her life that she could do more and she often repeated that the good must win. Today there are monuments commemorating her (the first one was set up in Moscow), the alley outside the museum of Polish Jews’ History and the year 2018 as the tribute of remembrance devoted to her…
Anna Mieszkowska ‘A real story of Irena Sendlerowa’, published by Marginesy; Anna Bikont ‘Sendlerowa in a hide’, published by Czerna; www.krakowianka-przewodnik.pl
Translation: Aneta Amrozik
„Niedziela” 6/2018 (11 II 2018)