Friday, February 07, 2014

Saved by the Jar

The purpose of this blog is to rescue the conversation at your Shabbat table. Please print and share.

01A reader confessed to me the other day that he doesn't usually print out Table Talk to share with his family, rather he relies on his memory.

I know that's hard to believe.

I mean, is he really able to recreate the eloquence and brilliance of thought from memory?

Perhaps he thinks that I just write the first thing that pops into my head?

Perhaps he doesn't realize the laborious hours I spend researching and writing this email every week?

Is it possible that he just scans the email on the screen so quickly that he doesn't see the profound depths of thought and vibrant humor?

OK, so this week I have a story that you really must print out if you want to do it justice to at your dinner table.

I'll begin with this question for your table: Who is the woman in the above photo?

Hint: She was born 104 years ago next week (yesterday on the Jewish calendar).

Still can't guess?

One more hint: Her nom de guerre was Jolanta.

Still don't know?

OK. Here's her story.

In 1939, she was a 29-year-old social worker at the City of Warsaw Welfare Department.

She recognized that the Jews were particularly vulnerable and wanted to help them, but this became impossible when the Germans sealed the ghetto in November 1940.

In case you forgot, the Warsaw Ghetto was a mini-Concentration Camp of 400,000 men, women and children living in an area of 1.3 square miles. That's a population density of 308,000 per square mile.

That's four times the population density of Mumbai/Bombay, currently the world's greatest.

Imagine the hygienic conditions, the lack of food and medical care, the high death rate.

Our heroine managed to obtain a permit to enter the ghetto to inspect the sanitary conditions.

Once inside, she contacted Jewish activists and personally became the smuggling conduit for Jews.

As you can imagine, she often had to plead with parents to permit her to take their kids.

In 20 October 1943, the Gestapo arrested her, tortured her severely, sentenced her to death and sent her to the infamous Pawiak prison for execution.

On her way to the gallows, in February 1944, her friends in the underground got her out with a bribe.

And what do you think she did?

She rejoined the resistance of course!

Sendler and 30 volunteers working with her helped rescue about 2,500 Jewish children and she personally saved about 400 children.

Now, where did these children go?

Most of them went to Catholic orphanages or families. But she promised the children that they would come for them after the war.

So she and her co-workers buried names and addresses of the hidden children in jars in order to keep track of their original and new identities.

After the war, they dug up the jars and gave them to the Central Committee of Polish Jews. (Most of their parents had been killed at the Treblinka extermination camp or gone missing.)

She was the first person honored by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations.

Here is the most moving and heart-wrenching quote:

"Here I am, a stranger, asking them to place their child in my care. They ask if I can guarantee their safety. I have to answer no. Sometimes they would give me their child. Other times they would say come back. I would come back a few days later and the family had already been deported."

I was going to end with the easy question for your table: What would you do?

You could try to answer that one, but I have an even better one.

Some people find this story so unbelievable, they asked Snopes to confirm it.

The question is - Why is it a story worthy of Snopes?

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Here is a short video of her at age 95:

PPS - Her story has inspired some kids in Kansas to create the Irena Sender Project (a project of the Lowell Milken Center).

PPPS - The New York Times obituary tells of some of the ingenious methods used to smuggle children from the Ghetto.

Shabbat Shalom

PS - Want to make your Table Talk rabbi happy? Like it, tweet it, or just forward it to someone who might enjoy it.

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