Irena Sendler
Name: Irena Sendler
Occupation: War Hero
Gender: Female
Birth Day: February 15, 1910
Death Date: May 12, 2008 (age 98)
Age: Aged 98
Birth Place: Otwock, Poland
Zodiac Sign: Aquarius

Social Accounts

Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler was born on February 15, 1910 in Otwock, Poland (98 years old). Irena Sendler is a War Hero, zodiac sign: Aquarius. Nationality: Poland. Approx. Net Worth: Undisclosed.


Her heroism remained largely unrecognized until a group of Kansas high school students wrote a play called "Life in a Jar" that was based on her story.

Net Worth 2020

Find out more about Irena Sendler net worth here.

Does Irena Sendler Dead or Alive?

As per our current Database, Irena Sendler died on May 12, 2008 (age 98).


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Before Fame

She hid infants at the bottom of her large tool bag and smuggled older children in burlap sacks. As she carried out her rescue operation, her dog warned her of approaching Nazi soldiers.


Biography Timeline


Sendler was born on 15 February 1910 in Warsaw, to Stanisław Henryk Krzyżanowski, a physician, and his wife, Janina Karolina (née Grzybowska). She was baptized Irena Stanisława on 2 February 1917 in Otwock. She grew up in Otwock, a town about 15 miles (24 km) southeast of Warsaw, where there was a Jewish community. Her father, a humanitarian who treated the very poor, including Jews, free of charge, died in February 1917 from typhus contracted from his patients. After his death, the Jewish community offered financial help for the widow and her daughter, though Janina Krzyżanowska declined their assistance.


From 1927, Sendler studied law for two years and then Polish literature at the University of Warsaw, interrupting her studies for several years from 1932 to 1937. She opposed the ghetto benches system practiced in the 1930s at many Polish institutions of higher learning (from 1937 at the University of Warsaw) and defaced the "non-Jewish" identification on her grade card. She reported having suffered from academic disciplinary measures because of her activities and reputation as a communist and philo-Semite. By the outbreak of World War II she submitted her magister degree thesis, but had not taken the final exams. Sendler joined the Union of Polish Democratic Youth (Związek Polskiej Młodzieży Demokratycznej) in 1928; during the war she became a member of the Polish Socialist Party (PPS). She was repeatedly refused employment in the Warsaw school system because of negative recommendations issued by the university, which ascribed radically leftist views to her.


Sendler married Mieczysław Sendler in 1931. He was mobilized for war, captured as a soldier in September 1939 and remained in a German prisoner of war camp until 1945; they divorced in 1947. She then married Stefan Zgrzembski (born Adam Celnikier), a Jewish friend and wartime companion, by whom she had three children, Janina, Andrzej (who died in infancy), and Adam (who died of heart failure in 1999). In 1957 Zgrzembski left the family; he died in 1961 and Irena remarried her first husband, Mieczysław Sendler. Ten years later they divorced again.


Sendler was employed in a legal counseling and social help clinic, the Section for Mother and Child Assistance at the Citizen Committee for Helping the Unemployed. She published two pieces in 1934, both concerned with the situation of children born out of wedlock and their mothers. She worked mostly in the field, crisscrossing Warsaw's impoverished neighborhoods, and her clients were helpless, socially disadvantaged women. In 1935, the government abolished the section. Many of its members became employees of the City of Warsaw, including Sendler in the Department of Social Welfare and Public Health.


Soon after the German invasion, on 1 November 1939, the German occupation authorities ordered Jews removed from the staff of the municipal Social Welfare Department where Sendler worked and barred the department from providing any assistance to Warsaw's Jewish citizens. Sendler with her colleagues and activists from the department's PPS cell became involved in helping the wounded and sick Polish soldiers. On Sendler's initiative the cell began generating false medical documents, needed by the soldiers and poor families to obtain aid. Her PPS comrades unaware, Sendler extended such assistance also to her Jewish charges, who were now officially served only by the Jewish community institutions. With Jadwiga Piotrowska, Jadwiga Sałek-Deneko and Irena Schultz, Sendler also created other false references and pursued ingenious schemes in order to help Jewish families and children excluded from their department's social welfare protection.


Around four hundred thousand Jews were crowded into a small portion of the city designated as the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazis sealed the area in November 1940. As employees of the Social Welfare Department, Sendler and Schultz gained access to special permits for entering the ghetto to check for signs of typhus, a disease the Germans feared would spread beyond the ghetto. Under the pretext of conducting sanitary inspections, they brought medications and cleanliness items and sneaked clothing, food, and other necessities into the ghetto. For Sendler, one initial motivation for the expanding ghetto aid operation were her friends, acquaintances and former colleagues who ended up on the Jewish side of the wall, beginning with Adam Celnikier (he managed to leave the ghetto at the time of its liquidation). Sendler and other social workers would eventually help the Jews who escaped or arrange for smuggling out babies and small children from the ghetto using various means available. Transferring Jews out of the ghetto and facilitating their survival elsewhere became an urgent priority in the summer of 1942, at the time of the Great Action.


The Jewish ghetto was a functioning community and to many Jews seemed the safest available place for themselves and their children. In addition, survival on the outside was plausible only for people with access to financial resources. This calculation lost its validity in July 1942, when the Germans proceeded with the liquidation of the ghetto in Warsaw, to be followed by the extermination of its residents. Sendler and her associates—as related by Jonas Turkow—could take a small number of children, and a certain number could be accepted and supported by Christian institutions, but a larger-scale action was prevented by the lack of funds. Initial funds for transfer and maintenance of ghetto children were provided by members of the Jewish community, still in existence, in cooperation with women from the Welfare Department. Sendler and others, in accordance with their mission, wanted to help the neediest children (such as orphans) first. Turkow, who contacted Wanda Wyrobek and Sendler to take out of the ghetto and arrange care for his daughter Margarita, wanted to prioritize children of the most "deserving" (accomplished) people.

Żegota (the Council to Aid Jews) was an underground organization that originated on 27 September 1942 as the Provisional Committee to Aid Jews, led by Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, a resistance fighter and writer. By that time, most Polish Jews were no longer alive. Żegota, established on 4 December 1942, was a new form of the committee, expanded by the participation of Jewish parties and chaired by Julian Grobelny. It was financed by the founder of the Provisional Committee, the Government Delegation for Poland, a Polish Underground State institution representing the Polish government-in-exile. Working for Żegota from January 1943, Sendler functioned as a coordinator of the Welfare Department network. They distributed money grants that became available from Żegota. Regular payments, however insufficient for the needs, enhanced their ability to assist the hiding Jews. In 1963, Sendler specifically listed 29 people she worked with within the Żegota operation, adding that 15 more perished during the war. In regard to the action of saving Jewish children, according to a 1975 opinion written by Sendler's former Welfare Department co-workers, she was the most active and organizationally gifted of participants.


In August 1943, Żegota set up its children's section, directed by Aleksandra Dargiel, a manager in the Central Welfare Council (RGO). Dargiel, overwhelmed by her RGO duties, resigned in September and proposed Sendler to be her replacement. Sendler, then known by her nom de guerre Jolanta, took over the section from October 1943.

On 18 October 1943, Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo. As they ransacked her house, Sendler tossed the lists of children to her friend Janina Grabowska, who hid the list in her loose clothing. Should the Gestapo access this information, all children would be compromised, but Grabowska was never searched. The Gestapo took Sendler to their headquarters and beat her brutally. Despite this, she refused to betray any of her comrades or the children they rescued. She was placed in the Pawiak prison, where she was subjected to further interrogations and beatings, and from there on 13 November taken to another location, to be executed by firing squad. According to biographer Anna Mieszkowska and Sendler, these events took place on 20 January. Her life was saved, however, because the German guards escorting her were bribed, and she was released on the way to the execution. Sendler was freed due to the efforts of Maria Palester, a fellow Welfare Department activist, who obtained the necessary funds from Żegota chief Julian Grobelny; she used her contacts and a teenage daughter to transfer the bribe money. On 30 November, Warsaw's mayor Julian Kulski asked the German authorities for permission to re-employ Sendler in the Welfare Department with back-pay for the period of her imprisonment. Permission was granted on 14 April 1944, but Sendler found it prudent to remain in hiding, as Klara Dąbrowska, a nurse. Already in mid-December 1943, she resumed her duties as manager of the children's section of Żegota.


Sendler's hospital, now at Okęcie, previously supported by Żegota, ran out of resources. She hitchhiked in military trucks to Lublin, to obtain funding from the communist government established there, and then helped Maria Palester to reorganize the hospital as the Warsaw's Children Home. Sendler also resumed other social work activities and quickly advanced within the new structures, in December 1945 becoming head of the Department of Social Welfare in Warsaw's municipal government. She ran her department according to concepts, radical at the time, that she had learned from Helena Radlińska at the Free University.


In the Polish People's Republic, Sendler received at least six decorations, including the Gold Cross of Merit (Złoty Krzyż Zasługi) for the wartime saving of Jews in 1946, another Gold Cross of Merit in 1956, and the Knight's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta in 1963. Materials dealing with her activities during the war were published, but Sendler became a well-known public personality only after being "rediscovered" by the group from an American high school in 2000 (at the age of ninety). She was recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Polish Righteous Among the Nations and received her award at the embassy of Israel in Warsaw in 1965, together with Irena Schultz. In 1983 she traveled to Israel, invited by Yad Vashem Institute for the tree-planting ceremony.


Sendler joined the communist Polish Workers' Party in January 1947 and remained a member of its successor, the Polish United Workers' Party, until the party's dissolution in 1990. According to the research done by Anna Bikont, in 1947 Sendler advanced to the party executive by becoming a member of the Social Welfare Section at the Central Committee's Social-Vocational Department. From then she continuously held a succession of high-level party and administrative posts during the entire Stalinist period and beyond, including the jobs of department director in the Ministry of Education from 1953 and of department director in the Ministry of Health in 1958–1962. Especially prior to 1950, Sendler was heavily involved in Central Committee work and party activism, which included implementation of social rules and propagation of ideas dictated by the Stalinist doctrine, and policy enforcement; by engaging in such pursuits, she abandoned some of her previously held views and lost some important acquaintances. After the fall of communism, however, Sendler claimed having been brutally interrogated in 1949 by the Ministry of Public Security, accused of hiding among her employees politically active former members of the Home Army (AK), a resistance organization loyal during the war to the Polish government-in-exile. She attributed the premature birth of her son Andrzej, who did not survive, to such persecution. Anna Bikont quoted Władysław Bartoszewski, who asserted before his death in 2015 that Sendler was not persecuted in communist Poland. Her continuing employment in high-level state positions also speaks against the possibility that she was a subject of serious investigation.


From 1962, Sendler worked as deputy director in several Warsaw trade medical schools. At every stage of her career, she worked long hours and was intensely involved in various social work programs, such as helping teenage prostitutes in the ruins of post-war Warsaw recover and return to society, organizing a number of orphanages and care centers for children, families and the elderly, or a center for prostitutes in Henryków. She was known for her effectiveness and displayed a sharp edge when confronted with obstruction or indifference.


In 1965, Sendler was recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Polish Righteous Among the Nations. In 1983 she was present when a tree was planted in her honor at the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations.


In the spring of 1967, suffering from a variety of health problems, including a heart condition and anxiety disorder, Sendler applied for disability pension. She was dismissed from the school's vice-principal position in May 1967, shortly before the Arab–Israeli War. From the fall of 1967, she continued working at the same school as a teacher, manager of teacher workshops and librarian, until her 1983 retirement. According to Sendler, in 1967 her daughter Janina was removed from the already published list of students admitted to the University of Warsaw, but Janina reported that she had simply failed to satisfy the admission requirements. The antisemitic campaign of 1967–68 in Poland left Sendler deeply traumatized.


In 1980, Sendler joined the Solidarity movement. She lived in Warsaw for the remainder of her life. She died on 12 May 2008, aged 98, and is buried in Warsaw's Powązki Cemetery.


In 1991, Sendler was made an honorary citizen of Israel. On 12 June 1996, she was awarded the Commander's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta. She received a higher version of this award, the Commander's Cross with Star, on 7 November 2001.


Sendler's achievements were largely unknown in North America until 1999, when students at a high school in Uniontown, Kansas, led by their teacher Norman Conard, produced a play based on their research into her life story, which they called Life in a Jar. The play was a surprising success, staged over 200 times in the United States and abroad, and it significantly contributed to publicizing Sendler's story. In March 2002, Temple B'nai Jehudah of Kansas City presented Sendler, Conard, and the students who produced the play with its annual award "for contributions made to saving the world" (Tikkun olam award). The play was adapted for television as The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (2009), directed by John Kent Harrison, in which Sendler was portrayed by actress Anna Paquin.


In 2003, Pope John Paul II sent Sendler a personal letter praising her wartime efforts. On 10 November 2003, she received the Order of the White Eagle, Poland's highest civilian decoration, and the Polish-American award, the Jan Karski Award "For Courage and Heart", given by the American Center of Polish Culture in Washington, D.C.


In 2006, Polish NGOs Centrum Edukacji Obywatelskiej and Stowarzyszenie Dzieci Holocaustu, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Poland, and the Life in a Jar Foundation established the Irena Sendler's Award "For Repairing the World" (pl:Nagroda imienia Ireny Sendlerowej "Za naprawianie świata"), awarded to Polish and American teachers. The Life in a Jar Foundation is a foundation dedicated to promoting the attitude and message of Irena Sendler.


On 14 March 2007, Sendler was honoured by the Senate of Poland, and a year later, on 30 July, by the United States Congress. On 11 April 2007, she received the Order of the Smile; at that time, she was the oldest recipient of the award. In 2007 she became an honorary citizen of the cities of Warsaw and Tarczyn.


In April 2009 Sendler was posthumously granted the Humanitarian of the Year award from The Sister Rose Thering Endowment, and in May 2009, Sendler was posthumously granted the Audrey Hepburn Humanitarian Award.


In 2010 a memorial plaque commemorating Sendler was added to the wall of 2 Pawińskiego Street in Warsaw – a building in which she worked from 1932 to 1935. In 2015 she was honoured with another memorial plaque at 6 Ludwiki Street, where she lived from the 1930s to 1943. Several schools in Poland have also been named after her.

In 2010, Polish historian Anna Mieszkowska wrote a biography Irena Sendler: Mother of the Children of the Holocaust. In 2011, Jack Mayer tells the story of the four Kansas school girls and their discovery of Irena Sendler in his novel Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project.


Around this time American filmmaker Mary Skinner filmed a documentary, Irena Sendler, In the Name of Their Mothers (Polish: Dzieci Ireny Sendlerowej), featuring the last interviews Sendler gave before her death. The film made its national U.S. broadcast premiere through KQED Presents on PBS in May 2011 in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day and went on to receive several awards, including the 2012 Gracie Award for outstanding public television documentaries.


In 2013 the walkway in front of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw was named after Sendler.


In 2016, a permanent exhibit was established to honor Sendler's life at the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes museum, in Fort Scott, KS.

In 2016, Irena's Children, a book about Sendler written by Tilar J. Mazzeo, was released by Simon & Schuster. A version adapted to be read by children was created by Mary Cronk Farell. Another children's picture book titled Jars of Hope: How One Woman Helped Save 2,500 Children During the Holocaust, is written by Jennifer Roy.


Sendlerowa. W ukryciu ('Sendler: In Hiding'), a biography and book about the people and events related to Sendler's wartime activities, was written by Anna Bikont and published in 2017. The book received the 2018 Ryszard Kapuściński Award for Literary Reportage.


On February 15, 2020, Google celebrated her 110th birthday with a Google Doodle.

🎂 Upcoming Birthday

Currently, Irena Sendler is 112 years, 7 months and 16 days old. Irena Sendler will celebrate 113th birthday on a Wednesday 15th of February 2023.

Find out about Irena Sendler birthday activities in timeline view here.

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