Irena Sendlerowa has died, at the age of 98. Though she was nominated last year for the Nobel Peace Prize (won, absurdly enough, by Al Gore, for his global warming scare-mongering) few have ever heard of her.
According to this informative BBC profile from 2005, she was a Polish Catholic nurse working for the health and care department of the city of Warsaw in 1940 when its German Governor ordered the confinement of the city's jews to the infamous Warsaw Ghetto. The story continues:
"Since 1939 she had been taking enormous risks giving Jews food and shelter. The penalty for helping Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland was death. It was a threat that was often carried out. But she recruited a group of her social worker colleagues to rescue children from the ghetto. 'I was brought up to believe that a person must be rescued when drowning, regardless of religion and nationality,' she said. Mrs Sendlerowa and a colleague, Irena Schultz, were allowed to enter the ghetto using special work passes. They smuggled children out in ambulances, through the sewers, or through a courthouse on the edge of the ghetto, which had a passage leading to the 'Aryan' side...
"In July 1942, the Nazis began the mass deportation of Warsaw's Jews to the Treblinka death camp in north east Poland. During that summer, 300,000 were murdered. Persuading parents to part with their loved ones was particularly traumatic. Mrs Sendlerowa could give no guarantee the child would survive. 'That was when we witnessed infernal scenes. Father agreed but mother didn't. Grandmother cuddled the child very tenderly and, weeping bitterly, said "I won't give away my grandchild at any price"...We sometimes had to leave such unfortunate families without taking their children from them. I went there the next day to see what the whole building had come to and often found that everyone had been taken for transport to the death camps'...
"The children were first taken to emergency safe houses, where they were taught basic Catholic rituals to pass as Poles until a family could be found to take them in..."
Irena Sendlerowa payed a terrible price for her good works:
"...on 20 October 1943, she was arrested at her home. She was taken to the notorious Gestapo headquarters in central Warsaw and tortured. During the sessions they broke her legs and feet but she refused to reveal any names.
"I still carry the marks on my body of what those 'German supermen' did to me then. I was sentenced to death"...
But her colleagues "managed to foil the plan after they bribed a Polish-speaking German officer with a large backpack full of dollars. On the drive to her execution site the officer knocked her unconscious. He stopped the car and left her bleeding on the roadside...The following day, unaware the execution had not taken place, the German authorities put up posters all over the city announcing she had been shot..."
There is much more to her story. The whole BBC profile is well worth your time, as is The Independent's obituary.