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One of the heroic Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust, Irena Sendler, died on this date in 2008. Sendler was a Polish social worker who led a team of two dozen members of Zegota (the Polish Council to Aid Jews, formed by both Polish and Jewish underground organizations) to save nearly 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto. The operation entered the Warsaw Ghetto on passes for epidemic disease control and smuggled babies and small children out in ambulances, on trams, and even wrapped up as packages. The children were placed in families, convents, orphanages and hospitals. Everyone involved knew the children were Jews and knew the risk of arrest and execution involved in hiding them. Sendler preserved their real names on slips of paper, which she managed to bury in a jar under a neighbor’s apple tree before she was arrested by the Gestapo in 1943. Tortured, maimed and crippled for life, she was saved from prison and execution through bribery by Zegota. Throughout her ordeal, she refused to betray her accomplices. After the war, Sendler spent years trying to reunite children with surviving family members. Yad Vashem named her a Righteous Gentile in 1965, and she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
“I could have done more. This regret will follow me to my death.” —Irena Sendler
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.