Light of a Life

In this issue

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review May 22, 2008 / 17 Iyar 5768

A hero's motivation

By Judith A. Klinghoffer

Printer Friendly Version

Email this article | Irena Sendler, a Polish woman who saved 2,500 Jewish children during Holocaust, died last week at the age of 98. May her memory be blessed.

Why did she do it? How did she do it? She explained:

The reason why I rescued children from the ghetto dates back to may family home and childhood. I was brought up to react that a person must be rescued when drowning, regardless of religion and nationality. A requirement dictated by the heart.When war broke out I was a social care nurse in the Warsaw City Council's Health and Care Department. We looked after both Polish and Jewish poverty-stricken persons. Immediately on the German occupation of Warsaw a regulation was proclaimed depriving the Jewish population of all material aid. The situation deteriorated when the ghetto was closed on the 15.10.1941, after being opened in November 1940. That was when I recruited a group of my most trusted colleagues to rescue the most endangered people. By forging hundreds of documents in which Polish families were indicated under original Jewish names, we received money from Social Care, thereby saving at least a few from starvation.

We were given "passes" allowing entry to the Warsaw ghetto as functionaries of the Urban Sanitation Works. Its director Juliusz Majkowski, a person of great courage, entered my and my colleagues' names on the list of his workers.

I've opened contacts with "Centos" and other social organisations, with Dr. Wysznacka and Dr. Merkinówna - Prof. Witwicki's assistants.

It soon proved imperative to get children out on the so-called Aryan side since inside the ghetto it was hell.

We reached homes to say we could rescue children and lead them outside the ghetto walls. The basic question which then arose was: what guarantee could we give.

We had to admit honestly that we could give no guarantee since we did not even know whether we would succeed in leaving the ghetto today.

That was when we witnessed infernal scenes. Father agreed but mother didn't. Grandmother cuddled the child most 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 to the Umschlagsplatz railway siding for transport to death camps.

Where were those rescued children sent to?
They had first to be placed with families we trusted the most to adapt the children to wholly changed conditions (family atmosphere and language - they often only spoke Yiddish). We called those homes "emergency care units". Those who did not know Polish had to be taught it, also basic prayers so as not to differ from Polish children when later taken to Social Care units.

Those kids quickly became accustomed to their new tutors, without understanding the extent of their tragedy, though they sometimes asked why they had been carried there away from "their kind miss" (i.e. the emergency care units). But it was toys which most often substituted their "kind miss"). They played, got up to all kinds of pranks and just felt good.

Children taken from the Emergency Care Units to private homes experienced their new lives in a quite different way. Those persons mainly took in small children. They were often childless families who longed to experience parenthood. After some time they become so attached to those children that, in many cases, they refused to give them back after the war. That apart, despite the fond care of their "adopted parents" those children also experienced bad moments, often locked in wardrobes for whole hours.

I know of cases when the sole chance of survival was the external window-sill, behind a curtain, keeping the child there as long as necessary, holding on with numb hands so as not to fall, until the Germans left the home of his adopted parents.

The children paid dear for the "price of life". A child sometimes had to be taken away from one "parents" and placed with others for their safety and that of the child.

I once carried such a tearful, broken-hearted little boy to other guardians when he asked me, crying and sobbing, "Please tell me how many Mums can you have, for this is the third one I'm going to".

In conditions of continuous danger from every part of the whole Polish environment, of frequent "visits" by Germans for various reasons, Jewish children had to be identical with Polish children. To allow them to return to a Jewish community some kind of a card file had to be kept, where against a name - Maria Kowalska for example - there was written "Regina Lubliner" - to allow the child to return home after the war.

For obvious reasons of conspiracy, the grandiloquently called "card file" was a roll of very narrow paper stripes. It was me and me alone who, for security reasons, kept and looked after this file.

A table stood in the middle of my room, with a window looking on partly on the house garden and partly on the backyard. So whenever I went to bed in the evening I placed that small paper roll on the middle of that table. I intended to throw the whole roll out of the window into the bushes in that house garden should anyone knock on my entry door. I frequently checked how effective my idea was so as to be well prepared to receive any "uninvited night guests".

Such a day did come on the 20.10.1943. There was a terrible banging on the front door which awoke my mother first and then let my head clear. I behaved just as I had trained through several years what to do should the Germans arrive. I grabbed that roll and wanted to throw it out of the window but could not, for the whole house was surrounded by Germans. So I threw it to my liasing colleague and went to open the door.

There were 11 soldiers. In two hours they almost tore the whole house apart, ripping up the floor, disembowelling pillows etc. The file was saved due to the great courage and intelligence of my liasing colleague who hid it in her underwear. I felt enormously, though paradoxically, happy when the Gestapo personnel let me dress for I knew they had not found the file of those children.

I cannot give a short description of what I experienced in the Gestapo cellars in Szucha Street and in Pawiak prison. The Pawiak museum contains a special cabinet with the instruments used by those "supermen" to torture prisoners. I still carry the marks on my body of what those "German supermen" did to me then. I was sentenced to death. "The ?egota" [Relief Council for Jews, working under the auspices of the Home Army] the Jewish underground aid organisation smuggled messages to me that I am not to worry for it is doing everything possible to get me out. The whole leadership of ?egota liked me very much and had great respect for my work. They spared no effort to find a way to have my death sentence rescinded.

Apart from any sentiments, there was also anxiety that the only trace of those children would disappear should I die.

It is beyond description to tell what you feel when travelling to your own execution and, at the last moment, to find you had been bought out. A Gestapo officer had let me out for a large bribe. I figured in their documents as having been killed by firing squad. But after two months incorrect records were found in their registers. The Gestapo bribe-taker was sent to the eastern front and the Gestapo again visited me, but unsuccessfully for after leaving Pawiak illegally I had to change all my documents and also never to be found at home. I had to "steal" my dying mother from our home and take her to unknown persons until she ended her life several weeks later. The Gestapo was looking for me so obstinately that they were even at Mother's funeral asking which is the dead woman's daughter. Our friends replied "her daughter is in Pawiak prison". To which a Gestapo functionary replied furiously: "Sure she was but inexplicably no longer is". I continued working as the head of the children's section of "?egota" though using entirely changed personal documents.

During the Warsaw Uprising I buried the "File" in two bottles in the garden of my liasing colleague, to ensure it would be given to a proper person even should I die. After the war in Poland ended, I delivered the matter of those children, i.e. the so-called "File", into the hands of Dr. Adolf Berman, the erstwhile first president of the Jewish Committee.

Using the addresses of children in the file, the Jewish Committee took back those children and delivered them to Orphan Homes organised in Poland or gradually sent them to erstwhile Palestine.

In conclusion let me stress most emphatically that we who were rescuing children are not some kind of heroes. Indeed, that term irritates me greatly.

The opposite is true - I continue to have qualms of conscience that I did so little.

It was my fervent wish to describe the subject of those children in great detail, to show the world the tragedy of the Jewish child, never encountered in the history of mankind down the centuries. But illness has overcome me and it will not be possible to tackle that task. So I appeal that perhaps "someone" will appear to take up the subject and display those "Heroes of Maternal Hearts", to give the contemporary world a better knowledge of the truth. And that truth should constitute a warning for the whole world, for all mankind.

Every weekday publishes inspiring reading material that will uplift you. Sign up today for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Comment on this article by clicking here.

Judith Apter Klinghoffer has a B.A. in History and Philosophy from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a Ph.D. in Diplomatic History from Rutgers University. She taught history and International relations at Rowan University, Rutgers University, the Foreign Affairs College in Beijing as well as at Aarhus University in Denmark where she was a senior Fulbright professor. She is an affiliate professor at Haifa University. Her books include Israel and the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East and International Citizens Tribunals.

© 2008, Judith Apter Klinghoffer