When the Luftwaffe bombers started piercing the sky of Poland on that unfateful day of September 1, 1939, many Poles, especially those who were Polish Jews, listened to the sound of doom in the form of marching Nazi troops’ feet towards Warsaw. Justified by the propaganda that the Polish people oppressed ethnic Germans, they invaded the city, did their ethnic cleansing, and cramped the 200,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto fenced by a 10-foot wall of barbed wire. Many were scared, but some did not let their fear take over and braved their way to help others. Irena Sendler was one of them.

Irena of Warsaw

Irena Sendler (Poland) on Christmas Eve of 1944. She was an anti-nazi activist. The State of Israel recognized her as Righteous Among the Nations. (Unknown photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Warsaw was the first place that Irena knew when she breathed her first on February 15, 1910. She studied law for two years before switching to Polish literature at the University of Warsaw. There, she learned and established her opposition to the ghetto benches system practiced in the 1930s at many Polish institutions of higher learning. She even defied the “non-Jewish” label on her grade card.

She joined the Union of Polish Democratic Youth in 1928 and, during the war, became a member of the Polish Socialist Party. It was one of the reasons why she was repeatedly refused employment in the Warsaw school system. In addition, the university issued harmful recommendations on her and her radically leftist views.

Soon, she was employed in the Section for Mother and Child Assistance at the Citizen Committee for Helping the Unemployed, working as a legal counselor and social helper. There, Sendler mostly worked in the field, visiting the impoverished neighborhoods of Warsaw and helping the socially disadvantaged women. However, when the government abolished the section in 1935, she and other employees of the City of Warsaw were transferred as employees in the Department of Social Welfare and Public Health.