Her photo stares at me dreamy and melancholic
Like golden October leaves against a sunny blue sky.
She bends gently her oval head towards her right shoulder
That carries the anguished burden of the world.
The parted dark hair in the center is combed back
Into a bun adorning a charming face.
And she looks with tender caring eyes,
A countenance more enigmatic than of the Mona Lisa.

Irena Sendler, née Krzyzanowska,
Polish Catholic social worker with a loving heart,
A gracious woman of valor and compassion
A brave humanitarian and Righteous of the Nations,
The rescuer of children from the Warsaw Ghetto
I bow my head and salute you.

What was the source of your towering magnanimity?
Where did you find the moral strength for what you did?

She was born in 1910 in Otwock, 25 km southeast
Of Warsaw. Her father was a physician with Socialist
Leanings. In the 1930s she was a student at the University
Of Warsaw and was expelled for three years because
She protested that Jewish students had to sit
On segregated benches in the lecture halls.
In 1939 the Nazis occupied Poland and Irena served
In the Armia Krajowa, the Polish Home Army
Under the cover name Jolanta. She also joined
the Zegota resistance organization that aided the Jews.
Her role included producing false documents that helped
Thousands of Jewish families to flee from the Nazis.

As an employee of the Social Welfare Department
Irena could enter the Warsaw Ghetto to check for signs
Of typhus. Inside the ghetto she wore the yellow Star
Of David for solidarity with the Jews. And when she
Returned to the Aryan side of the city she smuggled out
Babies and toddlers in ambulances and trams or through
The sewers. One baby was taken out in a mechanic’s
Tool box. In the ambulance next to the driver a specially
Trained dog would bark to veil any cries of the infants
Hidden beneath the stretchers. The rescued children then
Had been handed to the care of priests and nuns
Who would help to find shelters in convents
or in the homes of friendly families.

During the war Irena saved the lives
Of 2,500 Jewish children. It was a dangerous mission
And she risked torture and death. One day
In late October of 1943 the Gestapo arrested Irena.
They brutally tortured her and broke her legs and feet.
But she refused to betray her network of helpers

And the Nazis sentenced her to death.

Eventually, on the way to the execution site
Zegota saved Irena by bribing a German guard
Who let her go. Her name was placed on the list
Of the executed.

Irena went into hiding. And when she recovered
From her injuries she continued the rescuing missions.
She registered the name and personal information
Of every child that she saved. She placed their real
Identity records in jars, which she buried
Under an apple tree in a neighbor’s backyard.

When the war was over Irena unearthed the jars.
Soon the arduous search to find the parents began.
However, only a few of the children whom she rescued
From the monstrous jaws of the Nazis could be reunited
With their families because almost all the Jews of Poland,
Three million of them, perished in the Holocaust.

Irena Krzyzanowska Sendler received many honors
for her humanitarian efforts and heroic rescue operations.
Yad Vashem in Israel conferred on her the title
Righteous Among the Nations. Pope John Paul II
Wrote her a personal letter thanking her for what she did.
Poland decorated her with the Order of the White Eagle
And the Jan Karski organization awarded her
With the medal of Courage and Heart.
She died in 2008, aged 98.

A noble woman with a lofty soul,
Irena did not help people for material gains, for gold
Or diamonds. Nor did she risk her life for fame.
She rescued children from the ghetto because of her love

Of humanity and because of her belief in the sacredness
Of life. She did not see herself as a hero. The term actually
Irritated her. She tormented herself and had qualms
Of conscience that she did not do enough;
That she could have done more.
It was a regret that would follow her to her death, she said.

In a letter addressed to the Polish Parliament she wrote:
Every child saved with my help is the justification
Of my existence on this earth, and not a title to glory.