15 February 1910 – 12 May 2008
Irena Sendlerowa (Sendler) was a social worker for the city of Warsaw during the Nazi occupation. She grew up in Warsaw and knew much of the area. She began helping Jews escape persecution and in 1942 was elected to head up the children’s department of Zegota, a council formed to help Jews.
As an employee of the Social Welfare Department, she was allowed to enter the Jewish Ghetto. She began saving children by smuggling them out of the Ghetto and giving them foster families under different names. She kept two lists of all of the children’s real names buried in her garden so they could be reunited with their familes after the war. She was responsible for saving 2,500 children. In 1943 she was arrested by the Gestapo and tortured. She gave up no information despite having her legs broken and was sentenced to death. Zegota was able to save her through bribes and she went into hiding – listed as being executed. She continued helping wherever she could.
In 1999, students in Kansas researched Sendlerowa’s life and created a play, called Life in a Jar. In 2003, she was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest civilian award. In 2007, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She lost that to Al Gore and passed away in 2008.