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Coming from Pagan Writers Press on March 8, 2013!

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Friday, April 26, 2013

Everyday Heroine of the Past: Irina Sendler


Recently I came across a story that really got my attention.  The story was of a woman who had been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize the same year that Al Gore won.  The woman’s name is Irina Sendler, and she had the courage to silently fight the Nazis, some of the most brutal men and women in all of recorded history.   She was a nurse and a social worker who worked with an organization called the Polish Underground.  With the assistance of approximately two-dozen other volunteers, she saved 2500 infants and children from certain death by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Irina was granted permission to work in the ghetto as a sanitation inspector due to an outbreak of typhus.  The living conditions in the ghetto were horrifying, filthy, and grim.  Many died in the ghetto before being transported to the concentration camps because of the “living” conditions there.  They were dying of starvation and disease.  The Nazis “tolerated” the presence of a group known as the RGO, or Central Welfare Council, a polish relief organization of which Irina and her crew were a part. 

Irina walked into the ghetto with her big, black bag.  She looked around at the despicable conditions of the camp, overwhelmed by the rancid smell of decay and death.  Though she had been there countless times, she couldn’t get used to it, the sadness and the bleak inhumanity to which these innocent people were subject.  She glanced from person to person, some still having a flicker of life left in their eyes and faces, others with eyes that seemed dull and lifeless.  The wind was blowing that day, soft and bitterly cold. She tilted her head back, and looked at the grey sky as the wind graced her cheek with just a hint of hope. The buildings were once teeming with life, and now stood ominously, coffins upright. 
That day, she knew she was there to visit a family with two children.  The young mother desperate, panting, eyes scarlet in color.  She would have no tears to shed, as her eyes had almost dried up. 
“Please, please take the baby,” she begged, seeming like she was on the verge of vomiting.  Her voice trembled and shook.  Her husband was quiet and timid, and Irina could sense that he must have been a strong man before the round up.  He had broad shoulders, and wore a tattered, dirty jacket.  The sleeves were too short, and she noticed he had no shoes on his feet. 
He spoke softly to his wife, so softly that Irina could barely make out what he said.  He glanced at Irina and said, “take her to a new family.  Give her…” At that, he choked and sobbed, and fell to his bony knees.  He looked up and silently, but furiously begged to a god he once believed in.  Why have you done this?  Why?  Irina had visited so many families like this one.  Families who, because of their Jewish identity, were rounded up like cattle and shipped off to die agonizing deaths if they survived the ghetto, hell on earth. 
She gently took the baby from mother’s arms and placed her softly inside the big, black bag.  The mother let out a soft, terrifying squeal as the baby was closed gently and safely within this bag of freedom.  This was the sound of a heart breaking, and Irina had heard it before. 

She walked out the door, and out of the ghetto with that precious child in her keeping.  That child, along with approximately 2500 others, was saved by Irina Sendler, a true woman of strength, honor, and sacrifice.  She kept all of the names of these children in a glass jar she had buried in a secret location, and when the war was over, she attempted to find their families and reunite them.  Most of the families had been executed, but a few were reunited. 

Irina was eventually found out by the Nazis, beaten, tortured, and sentenced to death.  She was saved by members of the resistance group, Zegota, by bribing German guards, and until the war ended, she spent her time in hiding.   She died at the age of 98, in the year 2008 in Warsaw, Poland, the place where her heart would never abandon.  

***

Gina Tonnis is a part-time college writing instructor and a full-time mommy. She is happily married to her best friend, and they live in Atlanta with their two beautiful little boys. Gina is also a cancer survivor, which has given her the gift of appreciating each and every moment of her life.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! It always suprises me, the different incredible women that resided in history! I am so grateful that there stories are being told!:)

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