On 15th February 1910 Irena Krzyżanowska was born. Irena’s father died when she was 7 after he contracted typhus when he infected treated patients who other doctors refused to treat. Many of the patients Irena’s father treated were Jews because of this leaders of the Jewish community offered to help pay for Irena’s education which led to her studying Polish Literature at Warsaw University. In 1931 Irena married Mieczyslaw Sendler.
When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 Irena started to help the Jews. Between herself and a group of helper’s Irena managed to create of 3,000 false documents to help Jewish families. Irena did this even though she knew that if she was caught she would be killed. In 1943 Irena became the head of the children’s section of the Żegota: a secret organisation helping Jews in Nazi occupied Poland. Irena worked for social welfare in Poland so she was allowed to go into the Ghetto to check for signs of Typhus.
It was not long before Irena and her co-workers started to smuggle children out of the ghetto. They would use the preface of investigating Typhus outbreaks. Once the children were rescued they were placed with Polish families or in Roman Catholic orphanages. In this time Irena managed to smuggle about 2,500 children out of the ghettos.
However Irena was caught by the Gestapo and was tortured then sentenced to be executed. On the way to her execution members of the Żegota bribed officers to release her. They did but Irena’s name was still on the list of those executed so she had to live in hiding for the remainder of the war. But this didn’t stop her and she continued her work.
After the war Irena and her colleagues gave jars containing all the names of the children they rescued to the Żegota. The Central Committee of Polish Jews set out the task to try and reunite the families. But they soon found out that almost all of the parents of the children rescued were dead or missing.
In 1947 Irena got divorced and remarried to Stefan Zgrzembski. Stefan and Irena had three children, Janina, Andrzej and Adam, but they got divorced in 1959. In the 1960’s Irena married Mieczyslaw but they got divorced once more.
Irena with people she rescued as children in 2005. Irena is the woman on the far left in black.
Irena died on the 12 May 2008 in Warsaw aged 98.
Irena received numerous awards including:
- Righteous Among the Nations
- Commander’s Cross
- Personal letter praising her wartime efforts by Pope John Paul II
- Jan Karski Award
- Order of the Smile
- Nominated for a Nobel Prize
- Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award
Irena on a coin with 2 Holocaust resisters Zofia Kossak-Szczucka and Matylda Getter
Irena Sendler Project
Jewish Virtual Library
Ruth was a young teenage girl caught up in the horrors of World War II. But through it all Ruth was positive and full of optimism.
Rutka “Ruth” Laskier
In 1929 Rutka “Ruth” Laskier was born in the Free City of Danzig, an independent city-state (now part of Poland). Ruth’s family were well off as her father, Jakub, was a banker and her grandfather was a co-owner of a milling company. But in the 1930’s the family moved to Będzin in Poland. In 1937 Jakub and Dorva (Ruth’s mother) gave birth to a little boy named Henius. In 1939 Hitler started moving his armies across eastern Europe heading towards Poland. During the war the Laskier’s were forced to move into a ghetto since they were Jewish.
On the 19th January 1943 Ruth started chronicling for a Jewish teenager life under the Nazi rule in a diary. Ruth wrote in this diary without her parents knowledge and wrote in an ordinary school notebook. Ruth wrote occasional entries in a mix of pencil and ink. Ruth wrote about the horror stories of concentration camps that were spreading through the camp, she also wrote about the thing she witnessed the Nazi’s done. But it was not gloomy as Ruth also wrote about teenage crushes she had. Ruth’s diary begins with “I cannot grasp that it is already 1943, four years since this hell began.” While one of her last entries says: “If only I could say, it’s over, you die only once… But I can’t, because despite all these atrocities, I want to live, and wait for the following day.” Ruth’s diary ends on the 24 April 1943.
Rutka, Jakob, Dorva and Henius.
It was believed that Ruth died the August of 1943 when she was sent to the gas chambers with Dorva and Henius. However in 2008 a fellow prisoner in Auschwitz, Zofia Minc revealed otherwise. Zofia said that Ruth caught cholera and Zofia was ordered to take Ruth to the crematorium. Ruth was still alive at the time and begged Zofia to take her over to the electric fence so she could commit suicide but the SS guard refused. Jakub was the only member of the Laskier family to survive.
When writing her diary Ruth believed she would not survive the war. She decided hid the diary and after the ghetto was evacuated a friend, Stanisława Sapińska, retrived the diary from were her and Ruth agreed to hide it. Ruth knew her diary was important as it documeted the horrors of life a Jew under Nazi rule. Stanisława kept it hidden at home until her nephew passed on a photocopy and it was published in 2006.
Rutka and Henius