Plymouth Christian High School
“One Life Dedicated to Thousands”
Thundering rain, shouts of men, and cries of children fill the frigid air. The stench of sickness and death is nearly unbearable in the overcrowded streets. There is no place where horror is not seen. In this place of misery, an unlikely hero is doing her day-to-day work. Within a small, dilapidated apartment, she carries out her secret mission.
“Can you guarantee that they will live?” the frightened parents plea. Their two tiny children shyly peer around their mother’s gaunt frame to examine the strange young woman standing in the doorway.
“Only if they will come with me will they have any chance to survive,” is the woman’s grave reply. The couple exchange worried glances, but they know what must be done. The mother whispers softly into her children’s ears, wipes the tears off their grubby faces, and relinquishes the children to the hands of this stranger. The door slowly closes, cutting off the parents from the children. This was the last glimpse of their parents the children would ever see.
This is not the story of a single individual, but the story of twenty-five hundred. Twenty-five hundred children who were once imprisoned in this rancid place, and who were all liberated via the hands of this one courageous woman.
Ordinarily, a beautiful, warm, and down-to-earth looking woman is not what comes to mind when most people envision what a hero looks like. Irena Sendler is the prime example of someone breaking this expectation.
Living in Poland during the early twentieth century and World War II, Irena was introduced to the horrors of the German forces in her country More specifically, she observed the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto, a den of misery. Its purpose was to pen up hundreds of thousands of Jewish people like livestock, with the goal of slaughtering them. Irena saw this atrocity and couldn’t sit back and watch.
She needed to take action. She needed to save lives.
Firstly, she became the leader of an underground resistance group. Then, she devised a brilliant plan: pose as a nurse to gain access into the ghetto. The unsuspecting Germans though that when she journeyed into the ghetto, she was simply looking for diseases among the Jews. Little did they know that with every trip she took, she brought more and more young Jews out, smuggling them in sacks, burying them within toolboxes, and hiding them inside ambulances.
Now, if I stop writing this paper right here and wrap it up with a conclusion explaining how remarkably courageous Irena was to rescue all those poor children, that would be all well and good. But there is something else that Irena did.
Not only did she defy evil under its very nose, not only did she save thousands of innocent lives, but she also preserved the lives of the people who worked with her.
After posing as a nurse for a while, the Germans discovered what Irena was doing. They arrested her, threw her into a prison, and dropped the sentence of death upon her. On top of this, they brutally tortured her. With every crack of the whip and every broken bone came questions.
“Who are you working for?” was shouted in her ear.
“What are their names?” was jammed into her brain.
Through this all, she kept silent. While horrible atrocities were being committed, neither a word, nor a name escaped her mouth. Her colleagues’ lives were spared.
Later, thanks to a bribe given by one of her associates, Irena was released from prison before death could claim her. She then, along with those she rescued, went into hiding for many years.
After the war, Irena received several awards for her incredibly courageous acts. The elderly woman accepted each of these with great humility, and was often quoted saying that she could have done more.
On May 12, 2008, at the age of 98, Irena Sendler gave her last breath and passed away.
If courage were a person, I believe it would look very much like Irena Sendler. Her life was dedicated to extending the lives of those who were supposed to meet an early end. It didn’t matter that she was endangering her own life. She was determined to do what was right, no matter the cost. That is the definition of courage.