Nazi Resistors: Irena Sendler 3/3

Her political activities, and political imprisonment, were far from over. Sendler resisted Communist rule as well. From 1948 to 1949 she was imprisoned for her work with the Home Army, a group loyal to the exiled government. She was brutally tortured once again, the time while pregnant. She delivered her son prematurely and he did not survive. 

Sendler agreed to join the communist party and was released, but treated with government suspicion ever after. In 1965 the Israeli Yad Vashem named Sendler as one of the Polish Righteous Among the Nations, an honor bestowed upon non Jews who fought for Jewish lives during the Holocaust. The communist government of Poland would not permit Sendler to travel to Israel to receive the award until 1983. 

In her personal life, Irena was married three times to two Jewish men (by remarrying her first husband after divorcing the second) and gave birth to three children, only one of whom survived to adulthood. She lived until 2008, when she passed away at the age of 98 from pneumonia. 

Sendler’s contributions to the world were largely unrecognized outside of Polish and Jewish communities until 1999 when three American teenage girls wrote and performed a play about her dedication to Jewish children, “Life in a Jar.” The play has been continuously performed by small theater troupes ever since. If you’d like to see or host this biographical play, you can find out how at IrenaSendler.org

Sendler never considered herself a hero, despite all she had done. “Heroes do extraordinary things. What I did was not an extraordinary thing. It was normal.” She expanded on this theme in a 2005 BBC interview. “Let me stress most emphatically that we who were rescuing children were not some kind of heroes. Indeed, that term irritates me greatly. The opposite is true. I continue to have pangs of conscience I did so little.” 

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