Irena Sendlerowa Saved over 2,500 Jewish Kids From the Warsaw Ghetto, Smuggling Them Out in Suitcases or Medical Bags
The ghetto had been set up in late 1940 – a few, walled-off blocks spanning 1.3 square miles into which were packed over 400,000 Jews. Of these, some 254,000 were sent to Treblinka. As for the rest, they were denied food and medical care so they could die slowly. Still, the Germans were terrified of disease, especially typhus. To minimize its outbreak, they allowed social workers in to monitor the situation.
Sendlerowa’s job was to oversee hygiene, but she couldn’t resist wearing a Star of David armband to annoy the guards and to show her solidarity with the Jews. She also brought a dog along with her, one specially trained to bark on command.
Once inside, she and other colleagues did what they could to convince parents to hand their babies and toddlers over to them. Then they snuck them out in suitcases, medical bags, ambulances, and carts. These would often be sedated, but Sendlerowa took no chances.
When children woke up and started crying, the dog would start barking loudly so the guards wouldn’t hear the cries. To explain the older children, guards were told they were dead and were being taken out for disposal.
She did this every day, recording the names and details of each child, hoping to one day reunite them with their parents. These names were put into a jar and buried beneath an apple tree right beside the German barracks. Each child was given a false identity and sent to Catholic homes, convents, and churches. Older children were taught Christian prayers and how to behave in a Catholic mass.
It couldn’t last, of course. On 20 October 1943, someone reported her to the Gestapo. Sendlerowa was arrested and interrogated but refused to name her co-workers or give details on the Zegota. So they tortured her. When that failed, the broke her legs and feet.
Still, she wouldn’t reveal a thing, so they ordered her executed, but the Zegota bribed her guards, and she escaped and she went into hiding for a while. Recovering quickly, she returned to Warsaw under a false identity and worked as a nurse in a public hospital where she managed to hide five more Jews.
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