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Poland honors rescuer of Jewish children

Published March 15, 2007


WARSAW - Irena Sendler saved nearly 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis, organizing a ring of 20 Poles to smuggle them out of the Warsaw Ghetto in baskets and ambulances.

The Nazis arrested her, but she didn't talk under torture. After she survived the war, she expressed regret - for doing too little.

Lawmakers in Poland's Senate disagreed Wednesday, unanimously passing a resolution honoring her and the Polish underground's Council for Assisting Jews, of which her ring of mostly Roman Catholics was a part.

Poland's goverment-in-exile set up the secret organization in 1942 to help save Jews from the Nazi-established ghettoes and labor camps.

Sendler, now 97 and too frail to leave her Warsaw nursing home, sent a letter read by Elzbieta Ficowska, one of the children she rescued.

"Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer living, is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory," Sendler wrote. "Over a half-century has passed since the hell of the Holocaust, but its specter still hangs over the world and doesn't allow us to forget the tragedy."

Allegations of anti-Semitism in Poland have continued to the present day.

President Lech Kacyzinski said in an address to senators that Sendler is a "great hero who can be justly proposed for the Nobel Peace Prize."

After smuggling the children out of the ghetto and placing them with non-Jewish families, Sendler wrote their names on slips of paper and buried them in jars in a neighbor's yard as a record that could help locate the children's parents after the war. The Nazis arrested her in 1943, but she refused - despite repeated torture - to reveal their names.

In 1965, Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial awarded Sendler one of its first medals given to people who saved Jews, the so-called "Righteous Among the Nations."

Poland was once home to around 3.5-million Jews, most of whom died in the Holocaust.

[Last modified March 15, 2007, 02:25:28]

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