From the New York Times bestselling author of The Widow Clicquot comes an extraordinary and gripping account of Irena Sendler—the “female Oskar Schindler”—who took staggering risks to save 2,500 children from death and deportation in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.
In 1942, one young social worker, Irena Sendler, was granted access to the Warsaw ghetto as a public health specialist. While she was there, she began to understand the fate that awaited the Jewish families who were unable to leave. Soon she reached out to the trapped families, going from door to door and asking them to trust her with their young children. Driven to extreme measures and with the help of a network of local tradesmen, ghetto residents, and her star-crossed lover in the Jewish resistance, Irena ultimately smuggled thousands of children past the Nazis. She made dangerous trips through the city’s sewers, hid children in coffins, snuck them under overcoats at checkpoints, and slipped them through secret passages in abandoned buildings.
But Irena did something even more astonishing at immense personal risk: she kept a secret list buried in bottles under an old apple tree in a friend’s back garden. On it were the names and true identities of these Jewish children, recorded so their families could find them after the war. She could not know that more than ninety percent of their families would perish.
Irena’s Children, “a fascinating narrative of…the extraordinary moral and physical courage of those who chose to fight inhumanity with compassion” (Chaya Deitsch author of Here and There: Leaving Hasidism, Keeping My Family), is a truly heroic tale of survival, resilience, and redemption.
Mazzeo (The Hotel on Place Vendome), associate professor of English at Colby College, profiles the little-known Irena Sendler, a young Polish social worker dubbed "the female Schindler" for her work smuggling Jewish children out of Warsaw during WWII. Sendler headed a network, and later an organization (Z egota), that found more than 2,000 children places of refuge among families and in convents, saving them from deportation and death. Mazzeo shows the variety of strategies and ruses Sendler and her allies used to snatch Jewish children to safety, including setting up a medical station at the collection center for deportation; the intense debates over whether convents sheltering Jewish children had the right to baptize them; and how Sendler survived arrest, torture, and near execution. Sendler's personal life also receives attention, including her affair with Adam Cenikier, a Jewish social revolutionary and fellow resistance fighter. Mazzeo's writing is largely clear, though she is occasionally sketchy with details, as when noting without elaborating that American Jews helped fund Z egota. While this is not the first biography of Sendler, its succinctness and overall readability will introduce many readers to a truly brave and otherwise remarkable woman who initiated and spearheaded "a vast collective effort of decency."
A really good book about the Warsaw Gheto.