Sunday 10:00 am Ceremony Honoring Memory of Irena Sendler
The Polish American Congress Washington Metropolitan Area Division invites your participation in this ceremony honoring the memory of Irena Sendler.
April 7, 10:00 a.m.
Garden of the Righteous Ceremony Honoring Memory of Irena Sendler
Adas Israel Congregation
2850 Quebec Street, NW
Violin Michelle Kanter Cohen
A Yiddish Kind (A Jewish Child) Cantor Arianne Brown
Welcome and Introduction Rabbi Gil Steinlauf
Performance of LIFE IN A JAR
Ani Maamin Talia Goldberg, Ella Buring, Jeffrey Marr,
Eliya Gelb, Talya Wellisch and Alex Wellisch
Remarks Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf
Embassy of the Republic of Poland
Responsive Reading – Psalm 146: 5-10 Rabbi Jeffrey A. Wohlberg
El Maleh Rachamin Rabbi Steinlauf and Cantor Brown
Benediction Rabbi Charles Feinberg
The Adas Israel Congregation cordially welcomes participation by the Polish community in this memorial event. Light refreshments will follow.
Adas Israel Congregation is located at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Porter Street in Northwest Washington, DC. There is a parking lot from Quebec Street, NW, behind Adas Israel Congregation. It is just north of the Cleveland Park Red Line Metro station, Connecticut Avenue exit. http://adasisrael.org/directions/
Irena Sendler (1910-2008)
Irena Sendler, a Roman Catholic social worker, risked her life and survived torture to help save thousands of Jewish children in Poland. As early as 1939, when the Germans invaded Warsaw, Irena Sendler began helping Jews by offering them food and shelter. In 1940, the Germans issued a decree calling for the establishment of a ghetto in Warsaw. About 400,000 Jews from the city and the surrounding region were forced to move into an area of 1.3 square miles. In July 1942, mass deportations of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began; most of them were sent to Treblinka.
A group of Polish citizens formed an underground organization called the Council for the Aid to Jews or Zegota. In September 1942, Irena Sendler became the head of Zegota’s Children’s Bureau. As an employee of the Social Welfare Department, Sendler had a special permit to enter the Warsaw Ghetto to check for signs of typhus, something the Nazis feared would spread beyond the ghetto. Sendler wore a Star of David armband as a sign of her solidarity with the Jews as well as to blend in. She and her co-workers, the majority of them women, had to persuade parents to part with their children, convincing them that the children had a better chance of surviving if they were placed with Catholic families. The children were hidden in suitcases, boxes, and packages, sedating babies to quiet their cries, and smuggled out of the ghetto. Some of the children were spirited away through a network of basements, sewers, and secret passages. Operations were timed to the second. Sendler gave each child a Polish name and false identity; taught them basic Catholic prayers to allay any suspicion; and placed them with Catholic families, and in orphanages and convents. In the hope of reuniting the children with their birth parents after the war ended, Sendler made two coded lists, written on thin tissue paper, with the children’s real and fake identities, and buried these lists in glass jars in a neighbor’s backyard. That hope for reuniting never came true; most of the parents died in concentration camps.
Sendler and her group faced great personal danger, and several members were killed by the Nazis. In October 1943, she was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to prison. She was tortured but she refused to give any information about Zegota or about the children she had placed in hiding. She was sentenced to death, but members of Zegota bribed a Gestapo agent, and Sendler was permitted to escape. She went into hiding for the remainder of the war, took an assumed name, and continued to coordinate the rescue work.
Irena Sendler’s achievements went largely unnoticed for many years until her story was uncovered in 1999 by four young students from Kansas who wrote a play titled, Life in a Jar, about her heroic actions.
In 1965 Yad Vashem recognized Irena Sendler as “Righteous Among the Nations,” awarded to those who, without seeking personal reward, risked their lives, freedom, and safety to save Jews during World War II. (Polish citizens account for the highest percentage of individuals who have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations—6,339 as of 2012, more than 25 percent of the total number of honorary titles awarded.) Sendler received honorary Israeli citizenship in 1991. She was awarded the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta on November 7, 2001. In 2003, Pope John Paul II sent her a personal letter praising her wartime efforts, and on October 10, 2003, she received the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest civilian decoration. Also in 2003, the American Center of Polish Culture in Washington, D.C., awarded her The Jan Karski Award “For Courage and Heart.” In May 2009, Sendler was posthumously granted the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award, presented to persons recognized for helping children. In addition, her likeness appears on a silver 2009 Polish commemorative coin honoring some of Poland’s Holocaust resisters.
Sendler once said, “I was taught that if you see a person drowning, you must jump into the water to save them, whether you can swim or not.” Even after receiving many awards later in her life, she did not think of herself as a hero and claimed no credit for her actions. “I could have done more,” she said. “This regret will follow me to my death.” Irena Sendler passed away on May 12, 2008, in Warsaw, Poland at the age of 98.