Monday, July 15, 2013

Remembering Irena Sendler

In the sixth entry of his series explaining selected Kinot, Rabbi Moshe Taragin elaborates on the massacres that occurred in the spring of 1096 as depicted in Kinah #25 "Mi Yiten Roshi." He delves a bit into the historical background of those unfortunate mass murders, pointing out that there were gentiles sympathetic to Jews, who remained defiant against the brainwashed, philistine masses thirsty for blood. They did their best to resist decrees to hand over Jews and saved as many as they could, given the circumstances.

In a world where everything can appear calm, though seething hatred against Jews still exists in overt and clandestine ways, it is good to remind ourselves that the entire world isn't always out to get us. Even when popular opinion swings against the Jewish People, there are those righteous among the gentiles who will step forward and take our side, regardless of the risk to their own lives.

Irena Sendler was one such person.
Irena Sendler, circa 1944. From The Lowell Milken Center.
As a nurse and social working living in Warsaw during the German occupation of Poland, she endeavored to save as many Jewish lives as she could, utilizing her job and aiding the Polish Underground movement. At first, she and her assistants falsified over 3,000 documents to help Jewish families escape.

Later, she joined  ┼╗egota, the underground Polish Council to Aid Jews, the only organization of its kind in any occupied European country, where she continued her work, specializing in smuggling children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and became the head of the Zegota's children's division.

Sendler utilized her position in the Social Welfare Department to devise a stratagem to smuggle young boys and girls to freedom. Under the guise of performing inspections intended to prevent the spread of typhus, she and her co-workers hid children in ambulances and even parcel packages to sneak the children past Nazi inspection. Having succeeded, the were transferred to a number of orphanages, and the lists of their names kept hidden with the intent of reuniting the children with their parents after the war.

In 1943, Irena was found out, imprisoned, beaten, and sentenced to death by the Nazis. She was able to bribe her German captors en route to her execution, and survived the remainder of the war in hiding. Following the end of the war, she and her colleagues passed their lists of Jewish children to a colleague in the hopes of reuniting them with their parents. Alas, few of the 2,500 children saved were able to be returned to their families, most of whom perished during the war.

Irena's story was largely forgotten under the regime that controlled Poland following the war. Yad Vashem finally recognized her in 1965, and more recently, her story has been publicized by the Life in a Jar project.

While we are in the midst of contemplating the loss of the Beis Hamikdash, we can find some encouragement in the fact that there are those among the nations of the world who have supported us, and will continue to support us, as we make the final push for the ultimate redemption.