UK statue for Polish humanitarian hero Irena Sendler

A new statue was unveiled in the British town of Newark-on-Trent on Saturday to commemorate Irena Sendler, a Polish humanitarian hero who is credited with saving hundreds of Jewish children during World War II.

Irena Sendler, pictured in 2007.

Irena Sendler, pictured in 2007.Photos: PAP/Andrzej Rybczyński

The small ceremony was held amid the coronavirus pandemic as local officials and the Polish Cultural Institute in London teamed up to spread the story of Sendler’s wartime sacrifices and honour her legacy.

The statue is designed to serve as a lifelong reminder of Sendler’s remarkable story, officials have said, adding that it is a „fitting tribute” to a woman who risked her life to help Jews during the war.

Saving children from Holocaust

During World War II, Sendler worked at the Department for Social Welfare and Public Health of the City of Warsaw in German-occupied Poland. During her time there she worked tirelessly to help protect and rescue many Jewish children and their families.

She was part of a network of workers and volunteers from that department, mostly women, who smuggled Jewish children out of the Warsaw ghetto.

Sendler would provide them with false identity documents and shelter them with Polish families or in orphanages and other care facilities, including Catholic nun convents, saving those children from the Holocaust.Polacy ratujący Żydów są najliczniejszą grupą osób odznaczonych medalem Sprawiedliwy Wśród Narodów Świata. Jedną z uhonorowanych jest Irena Sendlerowa Irena Sendler, pictured in 1944. Photo: PAP/Paul Fearn/Alamy Stock Photo

In October 1943, she was arrested by the Gestapo, the Nazi German secret police, who suspected her involvement in this Polish underground movement. However, she managed to hide the list of the names and locations of all the rescued Jewish children.

Withstanding torture and imprisonment, she never revealed anything about her work or the location of all the rescued children, nor where she had hidden a list with their contact addresses.

She was sentenced to death but narrowly escaped on the day of her scheduled execution as the guards escorting her were bribed.

The following day the Germans loudly proclaimed her execution was successful. Posters were put up all over the city with the news that she had been shot.

During the remainder of the war, Sendler lived hidden, just like the children she saved. She was the only one who knew where the list of rescued children was hidden.

When the war was finally over, she dug up the jar where the names had been hidden and began the job of finding the children and trying to find their living parents. But it turned out that almost all of the parents of the children she managed to save had died at the Treblinka death camp.

It is estimated that Sendler, who passed away in May 2008, saved hundreds of Jewish children.

Help for the needy

After the war, she continued to provide help to the most needy in her community—she organised orphanages for children, co-founded nursing homes and social welfare facilities.

Among the many decorations she received were the Polish Gold Cross of Merit, granted in 1946 for saving Jews, and the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest honour, awarded later in her life for her wartime humanitarian efforts.

In 1965, Sendler was recognized by Israel’s Yad Vashem institute as one of the Polish Righteous Among the Nations. This is an honorific title used by the state of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.

Attending the unveiling on Saturday were a host of British and Polish officials including the Polish ambassador to the UK, Arkady Rzegocki.

’Little lady' who challenged Nazi war machine

Sculptor Andrew Lilly, who created the statue, said ahead of the ceremony: “Knowing that the story of this little lady who stood up to the cruelty of the Nazi war machine will be on show for everyone to see, especially younger audiences, is really rewarding.”

He added: „Her actions during World War II should be remembered for generations and it’s great I can do my part to share her story.”

(gs)

Source: IAR, TVP Info, Polish Cultural Institute in London

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