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Buried Under An Apple Tree…

Irena Sendler (February 15, 1910 – May 12, 2008) was an employee of Polish Social Welfare Department in Warsaw, when the German tanks rolled and roared into Poland in September 1939. Within one year, the Nazi Forces detained nearly 500,000 Jews…
The situation in contemporary Poland increased Irena’s workload, as she and her friends had to prepare fake documents, mentioning the names of members of those families who managed to survive by hiding themselves. Irena and some of her friends prepared around 3000 fake documents from 1939-42 in order to help the Jews take shelter in safe places!

Irena Sendler.jpg
Irena Sendler

Their initiative was not enough, as Jewish people in deep trouble numbered a few millions… Irena and her friends got a chance to support the Jews in 1942 with the formation of Zegota, the Polish Council to Aid Jews with the Government Delegation for Poland, an underground Polish resistance organisation, and part of the Polish Underground State, active in 1942-45 in German-occupied Poland. Till then, the Germans deported around three million Jews to an extermination camp in Treblinka. In such a situation, the Zegota authorities requested Irena to take over the responsibility of their Children’s Department… and, she agreed.
Irena used to stay with her parents in a different city. Once, there was an outbreak of Typhus fever… as the disease was infectious, the rich people started leaving the city. However, Irena’s father, who was doctor by profession, decided to stay back there in order to save the poor Jewish people. However, he, himself, became a victim of the epidemic… and, Irena lost her father at the tender age of seven! Thereafter, she, along with her mother, arrived in the Polish capital. While studying at the University of Warsaw, Irena found that majority of the people used to hate the Jews. The university authorities suspended Irena after she protested against this discrimination!

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A memorial plaque on the wall of 2, Pawinskiego Street in Warsaw

Irena became a social worker after completing her study. As the Second World War broke out, her life took a new turn. She started arranging to send orphans to safe shelters. Using the pseudonym ‘Jolanta‘, she visited different Ghettos in Warsaw where the Jews were being forced to stay. Although the Nazis thought that Irena was taking care of the sick people, her main task was to smuggle the Jews children of that hell! With the help of 10 friends, she used to rescue children from Ghettos, and arranged shelters for them in the Old Court House and also in a Catholic Church, temporarily. They taught the children Catholic prayers, and removed the yellow badges from their shirts in an attempt to help them escape the Nazis. It is to be noted that the Jews were ordered to wear yellow badges in public especially in Nazi Germany!
At times, Irena and her friends would transport children in carry bags, luggage, suitcases, ambulances… even in coffins! Later, they used to beg the parents to hand their children over to them in order to save them from the Nazis. That is why Irena and her friends always remembered the pale faces of the parents. Irena tried her best to convince them that they would get back their children after the War. At the end of the War, more than 2500 children became orphans and she failed to keep her promise! Irena was arrested in 1943… however, she disclosed nothing even after being brutally tortured by the Gestapo.

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Jewish children in the Warsaw Ghetto

Later, Irena and other members of Zegota got those children admitted in Catholic schools. Before leaving this world forever, the 4ft-11inch-tall Polish lady revealed that she had written names and addresses of the children in pieces of paper and put those inside a jar. She had placed the jar under an apple tree so that the Gestapo could not find it. She thanked her parents for encouraging her to help the people in distress, irrespective of their religion, nationality, race
It is unfortunate that the world is experiencing recurrence of those heinous acts albeit in different forms that had prompted Irena and her friends to act in a different manner!

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