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The subject of heroism is further explored in the beautifully-illustrated, true story of Irena Sendler, a young Polish social worker who helped approximately four hundred children escape from Nazi soldiers – and almost certain death - during World War II.
When Poland surrendered on September 28, 1939, Nazi soldiers rounded up Jewish families and forced them to live in ghettos located in cities such as Warsaw. There, poor sanitation, a lack of food and overcrowding soon resulted in deadly epidemics, such as cholera. In 1942 the Nazis started to empty these ghettos, herding Jewish children and adults into cattle cars going to Treblinka, a death camp, where those who hadn’t already succumbed to sickness or starvation would be put to death.
Irena’s heart told her that despite the certain danger and risk, she had to do something – and she did.
She became a member of the Council for Aid to Jews, a new underground organization. Disguised as a nurse, Irena would enter the Warsaw Ghetto and smuggle out children in any way she could devise. With the help of other Council members, some children were smuggled out in ambulances, hidden under stretchers and floorboards. Some were concealed in fire trucks. Some were hidden in sacks, body bags or coffins, supposedly en route to the Jewish cemetery. Occasionally, some of the children escaped through the city’s sewer system in a precisely-timed, well-rehearsed operation. Sometimes, babies were even smuggled out of the ghetto in potato sacks, suitcases or toolboxes.
Parents of these children made the heart-breaking decision to let their offspring go, knowing that otherwise they would face almost certain death. Irena kept a list of the escaped children and their parents, in case they could be reunited after the war – and in a few cases, this did happen.
For the 5 ½ years of the German occupation of Warsaw, Irena continued her dangerous work, despite being arrested once by the Nazis and almost put to death.
Irena’s story is one that certainly deserves to be told and read.
It is the story of a true hero.
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