Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

October 1, 2009

Woman Warrior of the Month: October

This month's woman warrior goes to a woman who lived during an era that I seem to just love studying -- the World War II era. Not that this was a bright time in human history, but I think it gave mankind an opportunity to be "the light shining in the darkness" for the very dark world. Irena Sendler was a Polish Catholic woman who worked tirelessly to save about 2500 Jewish children from death in the Warsaw Ghetto. She was a health care worker, and was able to access the Warsaw Ghetto, and would smuggle children out in tool boxes and ambulances.

Gavriel Horan's testimony (linked above) describes her work:

In 1942, Mrs. Sendler, "Jolanta," was put in charge of the Children's Division of Zegota. She and her team of twenty-five organized to smuggle out as many children as possible from the Ghetto. Ten members were to smuggle children out, ten were in charge of finding families to take the children, and five were in charge of obtaining false documents.

The hardest part was convincing parents to part with their children. Even the many secular Jewish parents shrank from the thought of surrendering their children into Catholic homes or convents, where they might be baptized or taught Christian prayers. Many chose to die with their children instead. Irena, herself a young mother, found it almost impossibly painful to have to persuade parents to part with their children, entrusting them to a non-Jewish stranger. The only thing that gave her strength to withstand this pain was the knowledge that there was no other hope for survival. Sometimes, she would finally convince the parents, only to be met with the grandparents' adamant refusal. She would be forced to leave empty-handed, returning the next day to find that the entire family had been sent to Treblinka.

Many in the Ghetto thought that Treblinka was a relocation settlement. Actually, it was even worse than Auschwitz, which was a labor camp/death camp. Treblinka, on the other hand, contained little more than gas chambers and ovens. Fighting against time, "Jolanta," entered the Ghetto several times a day, wearing on her arm a yellow Star of David to show her solidarity, desperately trying to convince parents to let her take their children. Many parents would ask her why they should trust her. "You shouldn't trust me," she would agree. "But there's nothing else you can do."

Irena was caught by Nazis, tortured, and beaten for what she was doing. And she barely escaped death. But she persevered.

Those 2500 children Irena placed with non-Jewish families, and kept track of them until the end of the war. When the Holocaust ended, she reunited as many children as she could with their surviving family members, but most had perished in the camps.

Irena's work was recognized by the rest of the world in early 2000's, and she was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 (she lost to Al Gore for his work on "An Inconvenient Truth"....Yes, she really did). Irena died on May 12, 2008 -- on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima -- quite fitting to be brought home that day, since Our Lady foretold the great horrors of WWII that Irena bravely fought through. A group of university students in Kansas discovered her work in 1999, and have since produced a play about her life called Life in a Jar. Truly a woman warrior whose courage and love made her a glorious martyr (in the spiritual sense - she barely escaped martyrdom!) and witness for the faith! Thank the Lord for this woman's witness, and may she pray for us to grow in courage, love and respect for each other, and help us to bring peace to our hurting world.

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