Irena Sendler, who smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto during World War II, died at age 98 in a hospital in Warsaw on Monday. Sendler was honored by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem in 1965 for her efforts to save children in the Warsaw ghetto.
During the war, Sendler was a social worker and used her position to go into the ghetto and smuggle out children. Because the Nazis feared disease, she went into the ghetto under the pretext of trying to contain an outbreak of typhoid. According to the New York Times she and her team of volunteers, most of whom were women, rescued children through underground corridors, by smuggling them in coffins or under the floorboards in ambulances, or by paper forgeries in the Catholic church near the ghetto.
The Telegraph reports that while visiting the ghetto, Sendler wore the Star of David to blend in and discuss escape plans. She also handed out money and medicine to the Jews in the ghetto.
Sendler was captured by the Gestapo in 1943 and was tortured for three months by the Nazis. According to a report about Sedler in the Warsaw Voice, German records listed Sendler as having been executed, but her volunteers were able to bribe a Gestapo officer and she escaped.
The News.pl quotes Sendler as saying, “My conscience aches because I could not do more.”
In order to reunite families after the war, Sendler buried a jar containing the real name of each child she helped escape.
Sendler’s story was largely forgotten until recently. In 2000, ninth grade girls from Uniontown, Kansas, heard about Sendler and set out to write a short play about her life called Life in a Jar. In 2007, Sendler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.