Poland Honors Woman Who Saved Jewish From Holocaust

Wednesday, March 14th 2007, 1:18 pm
By: News On 6

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Irena Sendler saved nearly 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis, organizing a ring of 20 Poles to smuggle them out of the Warsaw Ghetto in baskets and ambulances.

The Nazis arrested her, but she didn't talk under torture. After she survived the war, she expressed regret _ for doing too little.

Lawmakers in Poland's Senate disagreed Wednesday, unanimously passing a resolution honoring her and the Polish underground's Council for Assisting Jews, of which her ring of mostly Roman Catholics was a part.

Poland's goverment-in-exile set up the secret organization in 1942 to help save Jews from the Nazi-established ghettoes and labor camps.

Anyone caught helping Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland risked being summarily shot, along with family members.

The resolution honored Sendler for organizing the ``rescue of the most defenseless victims of the Nazi ideology: the Jewish children.''

Sendler, now 97 and living in a Warsaw nursing home, was too frail to attend but sent a letter read by Elzbieta Ficowska, one of the children she rescued.

``Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer living, is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory,'' Sendler wrote. ``Over a half-century has passed since the hell of the Holocaust, but its specter still hangs over the world and doesn't allow us to forget the tragedy.''

President Lech Kacyzinski said in an address to senators that Sendler is a ``great hero who can be justly proposed for the Nobel Peace Prize.''

After smuggling the children out of the ghetto and placing them with non-Jewish families, Sendler wrote their names on slips of paper and buried them in jars in a neighbor's yard as a record that could help locate the children's parents after the war. The Nazis arrested her in 1943, but she refused _ despite repeated torture _ to reveal their names.

In 1965, Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial awarded Sendler one of its first medals given to people who saved Jews, the so-called ``Righteous Among the Nations.''

She was given the honor in 1983 after Poland's communist authorities finally agreed to allow her to travel abroad.

``I think she's a great lady, very courageous, and I think she's a model for the whole international community,'' Israel's ambassador to Poland, David Peleg, said after the ceremony. ``I think that her courage is a very special one.''

Poland was once home to around 3.5 million Jews, most of whom were killed in the Holocaust.

After World War II, many Polish Jews suppressed their identities and married into the Roman Catholic majority, fearful of postwar pogroms and the anti-Semitism of the Moscow-backed communist regime.

Allegations of anti-Semitism in Poland have continued to the present day.

Kaczynski's government has been chided for its coziness with Roman Catholic Radio Maryja, which aired a commentary last year accusing Jews of ``trying to force our government to pay extortion money disguised as compensation payments'' for property lost during World War II, saying it was part of a ``Holocaust business.''

Poland's chief rabbi was punched and attacked with what appeared to be pepper spray in downtown Warsaw last year in what police said may have been an anti-Semitic attack.