(15 February 1910 â€“ 12 May 2008)
was a Polish Catholic social worker who served in the Polish Underground and the Å»egota resistance organization in German-occupied Warsaw during World War II. Assisted by some two dozen other Å»egota members, Sendler smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and then provided them with false identity documents and with housing outside the Ghetto, thereby saving those children from being killed in the Holocaust.
The Nazis eventually discovered her activities, tortured her, and sentenced her to death; but she managed to evade execution and survive the war. In 1965, Sendler was recognized by the State of Israel as a Righteous among the Nations. Late in life she was awarded Poland's highest honor for her wartime humanitarian efforts and also was nominated for (but did not win) the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. She appears on a silver 2009 Polish commemorative coin honoring some of the Holocaust-resisters of Poland.
During the German occupation of Poland, Sendler lived in Warsaw (prior to that, she had lived in Otwock and Tarczyn while working for urban Social Welfare departments). As early as 1939, when the Germans invaded Poland, she began aiding Jews. She and her helpers created over 3,000 false documents to help Jewish families, prior to joining the organized Å»egota resistance and the children's division. Helping Jews was very riskyâ€”in German-occupied Poland, all household members risked death if they were found to be hiding Jews, a more severe punishment than in other occupied European countries.
Nazi German poster in German and Polish (Warsaw, 1942) threatening death to any Pole who aided Jews
In August 1943, Å»egota (the Council to Aid Jews) nominated her (by her cover name Jolanta) to head its children's section. As an employee of the Social Welfare Department, she had a special permit to enter the Warsaw Ghetto to check for signs of typhus, something the Nazis feared would spread beyond the Ghetto. During these visits, she wore a Star of David as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish people and so as not to call attention to herself.
Jewish children in the Warsaw Ghetto
She cooperated with others in Warsaw's Municipal Social Services department, and the RGO (Central Welfare Council), a Polish relief organization that was tolerated under German supervision. She and her co-workers organized the smuggling of Jewish children out of the Ghetto. Under the pretext of conducting inspections of sanitary conditions during a typhus outbreak, Sendler and her co-workers visited the Ghetto and smuggled out babies and small children in ambulances and trams, sometimes disguising them as packages. She also used the old courthouse at the edge of the Warsaw Ghetto (still standing) as one of the main routes for smuggling out children.
The children were placed with Polish families, the Warsaw orphanage of the Sisters of the Family of Mary, or Roman Catholic convents such as the Little Sister Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary Conceived Immaculate at Turkowice and ChotomÃ³w. Sendler cooperated very closely with social worker and catholic nun, mother provincial of Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary - Matylda Getter. She rescued about 2,500 Jewish children in different education and care facilities for children in Anin, BiaÅ‚oÅ‚Ä™ka, ChotomÃ³w, MiÄ™dzylesie, PÅ‚udy, Sejny, Vilnius and others. Some children were smuggled to priests in parish rectories. She and her co-workers buried lists of the hidden children in jars in order to keep track of their original and new identities. Å»egota assured the children that, when the war was over, they would be returned to Jewish relatives.
In 1943, Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo, severely tortured, and sentenced to death. Å»egota saved her by bribing German guards on the way to her execution. She was listed on public bulletin boards as among those executed. For the remainder of the war, she lived in hiding, but continued her work for the Jewish children. After the war, she and her co-workers gathered together all of their records with the names and locations of the hidden Jewish children and gave them to their Zegota colleague Adolf Berman and his employees at the Central Committee of Polish Jews. However, almost all of their parents had been killed at the Treblinka extermination camp or had otherwise gone missing.