Her name was Irena Sendler. She was a young Polish nurse who worked in Nazi-occupied Warsaw and risked her life to save 2,500 Jewish children from being deported to the concentration camps.
In October 1940, almost a half a million Jewish residents of Warsaw were imprisoned inside the walls of the Warsaw ghetto. Her position with the Warsaw social services allowed her access into the ghetto to give medical care to the people. She convinced Jewish parents that their children were in grave danger, and their only hope would be for her to secretly spirit their children out of harm’s way. She later said, “I lost no time on reflecting, knowing that I and my heart had to be there to come to the rescue.”
Many parents allowed Irena to carry their sedated children out of the ghetto, concealed in sacks, supply boxes, trash bins, and even coffins. The tiniest ones were hidden in toolboxes. Outside the ghetto, she provided the children with false documents and hiding places—some were taken to convents and orphanages, some were adopted by Christian families, and some were sent to Palestine. Each child’s real name, their assumed name, and their destination address were recorded on cigarette papers and then stored in a jar. Irena then buried the jar beneath an apple tree in the garden—right across the road from the Nazi barracks. Irena hoped that, with the help of this meticulous documentation, these children could be reunited with their families after the war.
In 1943, Irena was betrayed to the Gestapo and arrested. She was brutally tortured, her feet and legs broken with a wooden truncheon, but she refused to reveal the locations of the children. She was finally sentenced to death, but the Polish Resistance bribed a guard, who helped her escape before the execution took place. Throughout her time in prison, she kept a card with her inscribed with the words, “Jesus, I trust in Thee.”
After the war, she dug up the precious jar from beneath the apple tree and tried to locate the children’s families. Tragically, almost all othe parents had perished in the camps, but she did manage to restore most of the children to surviving relatives.
In 1965, she was granted the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008. But recognition wasn’t what she sought. She stated, “Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on the earth and not a title to glory.”
By Janet Aslin, BFP Staff Writer
In the preceding account, we read of the atrocities which were the end result of anti-Semitism over 70 years ago and how one woman’s response saved thousands of children from certain death. The generation which directly experienced the Holocaust is aging and within the next 10 to 15 years, most of them will be gone. Without their first-hand testimonies of the horrors they experienced, we will need to be vigilant, lest we forget where the road of anti-Semitism leads.
What exactly is anti-Semitism? Merriam Webster defines it as “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic or racial group.” While not yet as virulent as it was in the 1930s and 1940s, anti-Semitism appears to be on the rise. Two groups from Tel Aviv University, the Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary anti-Semitism and Racism and the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, publish an annual survey of anti-Semitic trends throughout the world. The 2012 report, based on an authoritative database of anti-Semitic manifestations worldwide, registered a 30% increase when compared with 2011.
The expression of anti-Semitism can take many forms—graffiti and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, vandalism, verbal harassment, physical attacks, and even murder. The year 2012 saw its share of all these forms, including the very violent Toulouse (France) terror attack where four people, including three children, were killed outside a Jewish day school, and the suicide bombing of a bus in Burgas (Bulgaria) which resulted in the death of the Bulgarian bus driver, five Israelis, and injured another 32 Israelis.
The political arena is witnessing the rise of anti-Semitism as well. The third largest party in Hungary, the Jobbik party is aggressive in its hatred of the Jewish people and Israel. When the World Jewish Congress (WJC) chose Budapest as the site of its 2013 annual gathering to show support and solidarity with Hungarian Jews, the Jobbiks staged a large demonstration, using tactics of intimidation to denounce the WJC leadership.
Another form of anti-Semitism (as defined by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency) is “applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nations.” We don’t have to look far to find examples of this discrimination against Israel. The world media is quick to report incidents which portray Israel in a negative light, rarely giving an unbiased view of the situation in the Middle East.
The increasing hatred toward the Jewish people and Israel is becoming more and more evident in the world. Will we be called upon to risk our lives as Irena Sendler did? Perhaps. Even if that is not required of us, we should all aspire to be numbered with the Righteous Gentiles of the past—those who stood with the Jewish people in the face of anti-Semitism. In this present day, we must be watchful, we must be informed. We must stand in support of the Jewish people when faced with anti-Semitism in any of its forms.
Photo Credit: www.wikipedia.org/ Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-41636-0002 / CC-BY-SA
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