IN this sordid tale of discrimination and hate, we also get to see an inspiring picture of a woman who, though not blessed with super human intelligence or strength, tried to do the best she could and fight against what she considered wrong, unjust and against humanity.
During the World War-II, when Germany occupied Poland, a chain of events followed and these were unprecedented in their complexities of human behaviour. Irena’s name encompasses contrasting images of history’s bleak chapters, compassion and total selflessness. During the German occupation of Poland in 1939, she saved Jewish children by smuggling them out from the infamous living hell that the Warsaw ghettos were. Not only hundreds, their numbers ran into as many as 2,500 – all of them destined to die under the cruelties of the Nazi regime.
Irena was born on February 15, 1910 at her Krzyzanowska home in a small Polish village, some 15 miles from Warsaw. In school itself, she showed her dislike of discrimination when she saw Jews sitting separately from others. She made it a point to go and sit on the side where the Jewish girls sat. Following the footsteps of her illustrious father, she took to becoming a medical social worker. She saw Jewish children in ghettos suffering and along with her friends, she began a systematic search for families and places where they could be kept. She joined Zegota, a social service organisation. She found a home situated on a third floor. She then started collecting Jewish children and housing them here, much against their mothers’ wishes. She would hear the agonising cries of the mother at her separation from her child but she told all of them, “I can’t promise you they will be safe outside the ghetto. I can, however, promise you one thing – inside the ghetto, they will be dead.”
This book tells how Irena and her comrades helped in rescuing children against heavy odds, working as they did as angels in times of distress; as beacons of hope amidst the throes of darkness.
It is however sad that the work of one of the greatest heroines stood unrecognised for more than 40 years after the war. She was awarded the Commanders’ Cross by Israel in 1983. She lived till the ripe old age of 98.
(Ameya Prakashan, 207, Business Guild, Law College Road, Pune-411 004; www.ameyaprakashan.com)