A Polish woman saves 2,500 Jewish children in Warsaw during the Holocaust. She smuggles them out of the ghetto one by one, taking care to write their Jewish names and family information in code so they can be reunited with their parents after the war. She and about 20 helpers risk death every day. Eventually, she is captured and tortured, refuses to give the Nazis any information, is slated for death and then resuced by the Polish underground, which bribes a Nazi officer to list her as deceased. She gets out of Nazi custody and does what? Retire? Flee to a safer location?
No. She continues to save Jewish children, risking her life every day.
Irena Sendler is now 97 years old. She lives in a nursing home in Warsaw. There is a move – backed by many of the children whom she saved, along with the Polish Government and others – to nominate her for the Nobel Prize.
Irena Sendler was a socialist. And, like most of those she worked with to save these Jewish children, she was also a Roman Catholic.
Yad VaShem named her one of the Righteous Among The Nations in 1965. She could not travel to get her award because the then-Soviet-controlled communist government of Poland would not allow it.
Yesterday, she was honored by Poland's parliament.
What type of person is Irena Sendler? Here she is in a 2003 interview:
You risked your life to save the children.
I was taught by my father that when someone is drowning, you don't ask if they can swim, you just jump in and help. During the war, everyone was drowning, but mostly the Jewish children.
How did you convince parents to give up their children?
I had to answer honestly that I didn't even know if we would get past the guards.…
Did you tell your own two children what you did?
I never told them. Only when my daughter went to Israel did she learn all about me. I thought it was so normal that I was helping, so there was nothing to boast about. And it was a very painful subject. It was always on my mind that I couldn't do more.
Note this quote well:
What was the most frightening moment?
When I saw a priest in charge of an orphanage for Jewish children in the ghetto walk with them out to be killed. The children were in their best Sunday suits. The priest was killed with them.…
There are those who attack the Church for its alleged "role" in facilitating the Holocaust. These people base their opinions on evidence, to be sure, but that evidence is one-sided and often pre-filtered. That is why others including historians Sir Martin Gilbert and Rabbi David Dalin find much evidence to support the idea that the Church – including the Pope – did a lot to help Jews survive during the Holocaust.
Irena Sendler risked death. She did so every day for years. She is part of the evidence that supports the Church. She is an exceptional human being, a Raul Wallenberg, who deserves a Nobel Prize.
We cannot give her that. We do not control the Nobel committee. But we should give her something. If money were no object I would suggest a gathering of those she saved and their families, to be held in Warsaw. Or, perhaps, a sefer torah written in her name and placed somewhere special to all of us, like the Kotel (Western Wall).
So, I ask for your suggestions. What could we give Irena Sendler? What can we do for this saint? Readers?