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In 1942, one young social worker, Irena Sendler, was granted access to the Warsaw ghetto as a public health specialist. While there, she reached out to the trapped Jewish families, going from door to door and asking the parents to trust her with their young children. She started smuggling them out of the walled district, convincing her friends and neighbors to hide them. 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 secret lists buried in bottles under an old apple tree in a friend s back garden. On them were the names and true identities of those Jewish children, recorded with the hope that their relatives could find them after the war. She could not have known that more than ninety percent of their families would perish.
In Irena s Children, Tilar Mazzeo tells the incredible story of this courageous and brave woman who risked her life to save innocent children from the Holocaust a truly heroic tale of survival, resilience, and redemption."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-08-15
- Reviewer: Staff
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.” (Oct.)