A true hero

Written by Bob on October 14th, 2009

The word, “hero” is bandied about often. Unfortunately, far to often in the world of sports. Michael Jordan hits a game-winning jump shot to win the NBA championship, and he’s glorified and elevated to Superman status.

The Pittsburgh Steelers win the 2009 Super Bowl, and the city embraces their conquering heroes with a gaudy parade where delirious, screaming fans revere their warrior-heroes for the splendid feat they’ve accomplished.

But let me tell you about a real hero: Irena Sendler.

Irena was a Polish Catholic social worker, who served in the Polish Underground and the Zegota resistance organization in German-occupied Warsaw during World War II.

During WWII, Irena was granted permission by the Nazis to work in the Warsaw Ghetto, as a plumbing and sewer specialist. She used her job as an opportunity to carry out a noble humanitarian service.

Irena knew that the Nazi’s planned to annihilate all European Jews.

So she devised a plan to save as many lives as possible – lives of the most defenseless. It was simple and clever. She smuggled infants to safety in the bottom of her toolbox. And for older and bigger children, she carried burlap sacks in the back of her truck in which she hid them.

Once she ushered them to safety, she gave them false documents and sheltered them with families and in group children’s homes outside the Warsaw Ghetto.

Irena also had a dog that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers allowed her in and out of the Warsaw Ghetto. The soldiers wanted nothing to do with the dog, and the barking covered the children’s cries.

Irena saved the lives of 2500 infants and young children. But the Nazi’s finally caught her and she paid a horrific price for her humanitarian deeds.

The Nazi’s beat her and broke both her legs and arms.

Irena kept a record of the names of all the children she smuggled to safety. She kept them in a glass jar buried under a tree in her back yard. After the war, she tried to reunite the children with the parents who had survived. But many of them had been exterminated in Hitler’s gas chambers.

In 2008, Irena was considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. But she was not accorded the honor she so richly deserves. What a shame.

Irena passed away on May 12, 2008. She may have been denied the Nobel Peace Prize, but Irena Sendler will forever remain a hero to the 2500 children whose lives she saved.

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