Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Prize

In 2007 Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the Nobel Peace Prize. The runner-up was a lady named Irena Sendler, who died on May 10, 2008. I want to tell you her story.

Sendler was a social worker in Warsaw, Poland when the Germans occupied it in 1939 and herded Jewish citizens into the infamous Warsaw Ghetto (they were later transported to concentration camps). She went in and out of the Ghetto several times a day under the guise of providing humanitarian aid, persuading Jewish parents to entrust their children to her. After smuggling the children out, she found Polish families to “adopt” them until the end of the war, or entrusted them to the protection of Catholic convents. She and her underground movement provided new names and identities to the Jewish children and only she knew their whereabouts. She was ingenious in finding ways to smuggle the children out of the Ghetto, using city sewers, underground tunnels and other routes, hiding them in boxes and suitcases. She even trained a dog to bark in the back of the car so it would stifle the cries of a scared child when they passed through a German checkpoint. Ever wary of German spies and surveillance, she wrote the names of the children, their aliases, and their adopting family on cigarette papers, and buried the papers in jars in her garden.

Eventually the German Gestapo caught her, severely tortured her, and sentenced her to death. Her humanitarian organization saved her by bribing the guards transporting her to her execution. The guards left her in the woods, unconscious and with broken arms and legs, telling superiors they had shot her. She was listed on public bulletin boards as among those who had been executed, so for the remainder of the war she lived in hiding, daring not even to attend her mother’s funeral. She continued her work for the Jewish children, able to walk only with crutches. After the war, she dug up the jars and attempted to find the children and return them to their parents; most of the parents had died at the Treblinka extermination camp. She was, however, able to return almost all of the children to extended family members.

Sendler’s story circulated after the war. In 1965 she was recognized by Israel’s Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations (Oskar Schindler was also recognized thus). In 2003 she received the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest civilian decoration. In 1999 a high school teacher in Kansas encouraged four of his students to investigate her life; they created a play, Life in a Jar, that has had over 240 performances in the United States, Canada and Europe. There are plans for a movie.

In my admittedly less-than-thorough investigation, I have found no indication that Irena Sendler was a religious person. Neither was Oskar Schindler. I am reminded of what the apostle Paul writes in Romans 2:14-15, that when non-believers act righteously they are in a sense confirming the image of God in which they have been created and God’s creational predisposition towards justice.

I’m wondering how much people will remember global warming fifty years from now (do we remember the “ice age” scares of the 1970’s?). But lives of courage, nobility, love, charity, and sacrifice leave timeless imprints in the world.


Blogger Dr. Pedantic said...

I wish you hadn't tainted the inspiring discussion of Ms. Sendler with a gratuitous slap at science. You are far from an anti-intellectual, so I assume your attack on science was based on a knee-jerk opposition to the messenger, rather than the message. Even Al Gore is capable of being right once in a while, you know.

You state, "I’m wondering how much people will remember global warming fifty years from now." I'm wondering how many people will be left to remember anything in 50 years if we don't start acting as God's stewards of His creation. It's reprehenesible that religious people will disrespect and abuse creation -- which Scripture says is evidence of God's very existence -- in its zeal to oppose anything it perceives as a "Democratic" issue.

8:35 AM  

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