Irena Sendler smuggled children in boxes, suitcases and caskets, saving the lives of more than 2,500 Jewish children.
During World War II, she watched in horror as the Nazis forced Jewish people to live in a ghetto in Warsaw, Poland where disease ran rampant.
Soon, it became clear that the Nazis intended to exterminate the Jews. That’s when Sendler took courageous action. To gain access to the ghetto, she pretended to be a nurse. She used a fake I.D. and told German soldiers she was there to deliver supplies and care for the sick.
In 1942, she asked 10 close friends to help her save as many children as she could. What she was asking of her friends was punishable by death. Even so, her group grew to 25 people who were willing to risk life and limb for the cause.
They hid the children in boxes, suitcases, and even caskets before making their escape. To stop them from crying they gave them a sedative. If they did wake up and cry, Sendler had trained her dog to bark to distract the Nazis from their cries. The children were transported through secret passageways, basements and even through the sewage system.
After they escaped the ghetto, most of the children were given Roman Catholic names and taken into orphanages. Sendler recorded every single one of their real names and placed it in a glass jar which she buried in a friend’s garden. She hoped one day to reunite the children with their birth parents.
By 1943, the Nazis had begun to catch on to Sendler’s smuggling. She was captured and tortured but she refused to reveal a single name. Even after her legs and feet were broken she would not say who she was working with or which children she’d smuggled out.
She was sent to prison where she continued to rebel against the Nazis by poking holes in their underwear while she folded laundry.
Finally, after a brutal beating, Sendler’s luck changed. One of her guards had accepted a bribe for the release of Sendler. He added her name to a list of executed people and then let her go.
She went into hiding but continued to work under the radar. She saved 500 more Polish-Jews, one of whom she later married.
When the war ended, Sendler unearthed the jar of names. She tried to reunite the children she’d rescued with their families, but it was difficult because most of the families had perished. But thanks to Sendler, more than 2,500 children were saved, many of whom were adopted by other families.