What Does God Require?
“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” ~Micha 6:8
This verse sounds so simple, yet we are tested on this point in many areas of our lives. Such was the case for Irena Sendler, a Polish woman that worked for the Poland’s Department of Welfare and used her position to help the Jews of her nation during World War II.
In 1940, Hitler’s Nazi regime built the Warsaw Ghetto, a 16 block area in the city of Warsaw , Poland , and proceeded to herd over 500,000 Polish Jews behind its wall to await annihilation. Irena was appalled. While many non-Jewish Poles turned their backs, Irena Sendler refused to look the other way. She was so horrified by the conditions of the Ghetto that she joined the Council for Aid to Jews, Zegota , organized by the Polish underground resistance movement, and directed the efforts to rescue Jewish children. At that time nearly 5,000 people were dying a month from starvation and diseases. Though her name is not recognized by most, Irena in an unsung heroine who defied the Nazis and saved 2,500 Jewish children from certain death by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Born in 1910 as Irena Krzyzanowski, she grew up in Otwock, a town about 15 miles southeast of Warsaw . Irena was greatly influenced by her father, Stanislaw, who was one of the first Polish Socialists. His ideas were a great influence on her as she studied Polish literature and was part of the leftist Union of Democratic Youth. Irena’s heart for the Jewish people of her nation may have been acquired by watching her father, a medical doctor, take care his patients, many of which were of poor Jews.
By the time she was arrested by the Gestapo on October 20, 1942, Irena successfully smuggled out over 400 children. Only Irena knew the children’s true identities and kept record of them, and their new identities, in coded form. She placed this information in glass jars and buried the jars beneath an apple tree in a neighbor’s back yard, across the street from German barracks. She hoped to one day dig up the jars, locate the children and inform them of their past.
Since she was the only one who knew the names and addresses of the families sheltering the Jewish children, she endured torture to conceal this information. Under unrelenting torment, Irena remained strong…and silent. Though the Nazis could break her body (they broke both her feet and legs) they could not break her spirit. Irena refused to betray any of her associates or the children in hiding. She spent three months in the Pawiak prison and was sentenced to death.
While she awaited execution, her Zegota associates were able to bribe one of the German guards to halt the execution. This German soldier took Irena to an “additional interrogation” and once outside he shouted in Polish “Run!”…and she did. The next day she saw her name on the list of the executed Poles.
Even though she faced death because of her work in rescuing Jewish children, Irena did not give up this cause after her narrow escape. Instead, she returned to the Warsaw Ghetto under a false identity and continued the work of rescuing Jewish children until the end of the war.
When the war ended, Irena dug up the jars and used the notes in them to track down the 2,500 children she placed with adoptive families in hopes of reuniting them with relatives scattered across Europe . However, she found that most of the children had lost their families to Nazi concentration camps.
The children only knew Irena by her code name Jolanta, but many never forgot her. Years later she received an award for her humanitarian service during the war and her pictured appeared in the newspaper. When the paper hit the newsstands, she received telephone calls from many of the children, now grown, who recognized her as the woman who took them out of the Ghetto.
Still having a heart for people, later in life Irena continued her work with Social Welfare helping others by working to create houses for elderly people, orphanages, and emergency service for children.
Irena Sendler never considered herself a hero and never claimed any credit for her work on behalf of the Jewish people during World War II. In fact, her one regret was that she wasn’t able to do more and she felt that this regret would follow her the rest of her life.
Irena knew what was good and what the Lord required of her. She acted justly, and loved mercy, and walked humbly with her God. Do we do the same?
To my knowledge, Irena is living today in Warsaw , Poland , as is 94 years old.