Ire­na Sendler and the Chil­dren of the War­saw Ghetto

Susan Rubin Gold­man; Bill Farnsworth, illus.
  • Review
By – January 10, 2012
Who was Ire­na Sendler and­why did she risk her life to help save near­ly 400 Jew­ish chil­dren from theNazis? Why have her hero­ic actions only recent­ly come to light? This slim, illus­trat­ed biog­ra­phy serves as an insight­ful intro­duc­tion to anun­sung hero­ine and her valiant behav­ior dur­ing the Holo­caust. 

Ire­na, ayoung, Catholic social work­er liv­ing in War­saw dur­ing World War II, did her bestin aid­ing the many refugees that were fil­ter­ing into Poland by bring­ing them­bread and attend­ing to the wound­ed. In 1939, when Poland fell to theGermans, Ire­na, an eye­wit­ness to the squalor and lack of food, feared for the­lives of the Jews and imme­di­ate­ly joined the resis­tance move­ment of the Pol­ish­So­cial­ist par­ty. As she watched the city’s Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion become­con­fined to the over­crowd­ed walls of the War­saw Ghet­to, Sendler, dis­guised asnurse, obtained a forged med­ical pass and ded­i­cat­ed her life to sav­ing thechil­dren before they could be sent off to Tre­blin­ka. With the back­ing ofan under­ground orga­ni­za­tion, Ire­na orga­nized dar­ing routes of escape throughthe sew­er sys­tem, smug­gled chil­dren out through floor­boards in ambu­lances, body­bags and coffins, and trans­port­ed babies in suit­cas­es and pota­to sacks. Hop­ing the chil­dren would be reunit­ed with their fam­i­lies, Ire­na kept secre­trecords of their true iden­ti­ties that were care­ful­ly con­cealed in jars thatwere buried in a neigh­bor­ing garden. 

Ire­na’s life was often marked byfear and despair; when her work” was dis­cov­ered by the Gestapo, she­was jailed, tor­tured and mirac­u­lous­ly escaped exe­cu­tion by a fir­ingsquad. On the run at the end of the war, Ire­na was shunned and labeled a trai­tor­by the Sovi­et gov­ern­ment until the col­lapse of Com­mu­nism in Poland in1989. This dra­mat­ic tale is paired with arrest­ing, over­sized oilil­lus­tra­tions that are often haunt­ing and bleak. Illus­tra­tor, Bill­Farnsworth skill­ful­ly cap­tures the fear and dark­ness of the war. Ire­na isoft­en sur­round­ed by a white back­ground and appears lumi­nous. Per­son­al­com­men­taries from inter­views of some of the chil­dren Ire­na saved arein­ter­spersed through the text and add a dimen­sion of real­ism. Excel­lent­notes at the back of the book, which include a resource bib­li­og­ra­phy and ade­tailed index, make this a worth­while read. Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 8 – 12
Debra Gold has been a children’s librar­i­an for over 20 years in the Cuya­hoga Coun­ty Pub­lic Library Sys­tem. An active mem­ber of the ALA, she has served on many com­mit­tees includ­ing the Calde­cott, New­bery and Batchelder committees.

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