Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Polish Holocaust Hero dies at 98


Irena Sendler _ credited with saving some 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazi Holocaust by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto, some of them in baskets _ died Monday, her family said. She was 98.

Sendler, among the first to be honored by Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial as a Righteous Among Nations for her wartime heroism, died at a Warsaw hospital, daughter Janina Zgrzembska told The Associated Press.

President Lech Kaczynski expressed "great regret" over Sendler's death, calling her "extremely brave" and "an exceptional person." In recent years, Kaczynski had spearheaded a campaign to put Sendler's name forward as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Sendler was a 29-year-old social worker with the city's welfare department when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, launching World War II. Warsaw's Jews were forced into a walled-off ghetto.

Seeking to save the ghetto's children, Sendler masterminded risky rescue operations. Under the pretext of inspecting sanitary conditions during a typhoid outbreak, she and her assistants ventured inside the ghetto _ and smuggled out babies and small children in ambulances and in trams, sometimes wrapped up as packages.

Teenagers escaped by joining teams of workers forced to labor outside the ghetto. They were placed in families, orphanages, hospitals or convents.

"Irena was truly a noble lady and a great humanitarian who helped save thousands of children and was saved herself from death at the last minute for her activities," said Stanlee Stahl, executive vice president of the New York-based Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.

Records show that Sendler's team of about 20 people saved nearly 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto between October 1940 and its final liquidation in April 1943, when the Nazis burned the ghetto, shooting the residents or sending them to death camps.

"Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers...


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