Irena Sendler, humble hero(ine)
June 4, 2007 7:51 PM   Subscribe

You've heard of Oskar Schindler. You've heard of Raoul Wallenberg. But you've probably never heard of Irena Sendler (or Sendlerowa). Sendler, who turned 97 in February, saved 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto during the Holocaust. She doesn't think she's a hero, but she's been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, largely due to the attention brought to her story by four girls from rural Kansas.
posted by cerebus19 (36 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
What an amazing, inspiring story. My normally cold heart is feeling a little flush right now.
posted by Ziggurat at 8:20 PM on June 4, 2007

Do you know who else was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:27 PM on June 4, 2007 [2 favorites]

Made my night. Thank you, cerebus19.
posted by humannaire at 8:29 PM on June 4, 2007

Do you know who else was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize?

The list of nominees is never officially released, and people who submit nominations are not supposed to publicly release the nominees' names. In practice, of course, the names get leaked all the time. Lots of people get nominated that you might not expect: for instance, I believe President Bush has been nominated every year since 2003.
posted by cerebus19 at 8:38 PM on June 4, 2007

Hitler. The answer is Hitler. Hitler is the answer. Hitler.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:44 PM on June 4, 2007

Ah, see, and here I thought you were actually asking a question. Yes, Hitler was nominated in 1939, but his nomination was withdrawn. And yes, Mussolini and Stalin were also nominated. And yes, Henry Kissinger actually won the thing. Does it really matter to this story?
posted by cerebus19 at 8:47 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Do you know who else was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize?

Enough. Not an appropriate time to make this joke. If you want to discourage people from saying that someone was nominated for the prize, simply explain that anyone can be nominated and move on.


And thanks for the post cerebus19. It's particularly moving to hear that these kids dug up the story so many years later, and from so far away.
posted by serazin at 8:47 PM on June 4, 2007

Wow. I'm tearing up right now.

Thank you for posting this.
posted by fuzzbean at 8:47 PM on June 4, 2007

The Other Schindlers: the 1994 magazine article that started it all.

Wonderful post, cerebus19.
posted by hangashore at 8:53 PM on June 4, 2007

she just turned 97? let's git this nobel thing done already!
posted by bruce at 9:03 PM on June 4, 2007

Not an appropriate time to make this joke.

What? It's totally appropriate. Warsaw, Jews, Hitler. There's a connection there, which is 100% spot-on ironic, linked by the common thread that anybody can be nominated, by almost anybody of sufficient social standing.

How you choose to treat the irony is your choice.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:39 PM on June 4, 2007

Fantastic post and flagged as such. Commendation to the students who got the ball rolling on this and to the teacher that encouraged them to do it. Awesome.
posted by Joey Michaels at 9:57 PM on June 4, 2007

It's appropriate to compare someone who rescued thousands of Jewish children to Hitler?

Let me put my point differently: I found your comment disturbing and personally hurtful. I would prefer that if you have a critique of the Nobel Prize system, or if you want to point out that anyone can be nominated for the prize, you just say that directly, without making a joke (which I personally find to be overplayed and not funny anymore in any context) that compares this woman to Hitler.

Of course, you have the right to say whatever you like. I'm not the thought police since there are none here, but I also am not willing to let that joke go without comment in this context.
posted by serazin at 10:07 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Outstanding post.

Irena Sendler accomplished her incredible deeds with the active assistance of the church. "I sent most of the children to religious establishments," she recalled. "I knew I could count on the Sisters." Irena also had a remarkable record of cooperation when placing the youngsters: "No one ever refused to take a child from me," she said.

By "the church," she must mean the Catholic Church - as opposed to the Church of Rome which did less than nothing to help those poor people. Yet another example of the incredible decency of common people and the staggering indecency of their leaders.
posted by three blind mice at 10:10 PM on June 4, 2007

It's appropriate to compare contrast someone who rescued thousands of Jewish children to with Hitler?

posted by UbuRoivas at 10:20 PM on June 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

My favorite unknown holocaust hero is Aristides de Sousa Mendez. A diplomat, he saved tens of thousands, defying his own government, who ostracized him. A great man.
posted by vacapinta at 10:45 PM on June 4, 2007

It's appropriate to compare contrast someone who rescued thousands of Jewish children to with Hitler?


Then do so. All you've done is make a tired joke. Yes we know about Hitler, thanks. The Nobel prize angle is ancillary to the story of this woman's deeds. But, if you want to explore/contrast the Hitler irony then go ahead. Whats your insight here?
posted by vacapinta at 11:04 PM on June 4, 2007

"I could have done more," she said. "This regret will follow me to my death."

If there is a Heaven, on Judgement Day I do not want to be in line after her...

Oh, and excellent post, BTW.
posted by Harald74 at 11:18 PM on June 4, 2007

vacapinta: my curt, one-word "yes" above, without a lengthy elaboration of what i was getting at, was intended to imply to the sensitive reader that the point is clear enough, although minor, and that i do not wish to derail the thread, especially if people seem so willing to be offended.

i am not the one who is drawing this out & flogging it, but if you and / or serazin really feel like turning a molehill into a mountain, then let me know & i will give you the full exegesis, if i have time before my next appointment.

posted by UbuRoivas at 11:28 PM on June 4, 2007

my curt, one-word "yes" above, without a lengthy elaboration of what i was getting at, was intended to imply to the sensitive reader that the point is clear enough

Offended? I'm not offended by the pile of vomit some drunk left on the sidewalk outside my building last night, but I was certainly repulsed and sickened by it. Your emesis in this thread had the same effect.
posted by three blind mice at 12:59 AM on June 5, 2007

UbuRoivas, you could have said something like "I reckon the Nobel Peace Prize is too flawed a thing to offer for this brave woman - many of the world's worst have been nominated for it over the years, including, ironically, Hitler in 1939. You might say that anyone famous enough can nominate someone, and that would be true, but sometimes the really malignant win it: Kissinger, for example."

Or you could have been an asshole.

Can we get back on track?
posted by imperium at 1:46 AM on June 5, 2007

Can we get some more righteous lather in this thread please? A dumb juke followed by a wave of puritanical thought mobbery. Nobody wins.

It is an interesting story. Irena is clearly a hero but it is also revealing that she was actually part of a large organization, Zegota, which had the wherewithal to bribe guards, forge papers and organize a covert paid adoption network and is credited with saving over 75,000 people. It makes me feel a bit better about humanity to consider that everyone who helped, and there must have been thousands, were willing to risk a household wide death penalty in order to do what was right.
posted by srboisvert at 3:10 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

and is credited with saving over 75,000 people.

For me, putting my head on the pillow each night would be a walk in heaven. I spend a day reviving memories of my family and gifting that to my 86 year old grandmother and listen to her laughing and being generally happy again over the phone, and I literally smile when I sleep. Can you imagine the glorious dreams these people had? The immense feeling of: "I have done something empirically good, something undeniably productive with my life today" goes a long way toward walking the walk.

Of course, there's the feeling that you can't ever do enough, but that figure...seventy five thousand...that's something you put on the wall and stand proud displaying.
posted by thanotopsis at 3:25 AM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Back again. Since you were all so eager to miss the point, here you go: it's ironic that two people whose motives, values & aims were so diametrically opposed - over the exact same thing - as Hitler & Ms Sendler could be nominated for the same prize. It would be especially fitting if the latter could win it, where the former did not, but even if she doesn't, history has clearly come down in her favour.

I don't think the relatively arbitrary nature of the nomination process casts any shadow over the actual judgement or the prize itself, and nor does the fact that occasionally, people judged to have been villains have actually won, or that perhaps the one person last century most deserving - Mahatma Gandhi - was never awarded the prize.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:30 AM on June 5, 2007

History was never my strong point. Until now, I had no idea that Hitler was offered the Nobel. No kidding. I'm actually looking this up on Wikipedia to make sure nobody is messing with my head. *blinks*
posted by adipocere at 7:20 AM on June 5, 2007

Hey, Stalin and Mussolini, too. Damn. The nomination process must be ... interesting.
posted by adipocere at 7:22 AM on June 5, 2007

adipocere: They weren't offered the Nobel. They were nominated for it, which is not at all the same thing. It's much the same as noting that Christopher Dodd and Mike Gravel are running for President.
posted by cerebus19 at 7:36 AM on June 5, 2007

Saddam Hussein the other year, too, IIRC.

I looked into the nomination process a while ago, when it occurred to me that it would be fun if Michael Moore could be nominated, for Fahrenhiet 911.

Almost anybody can nominate, as long as they are a reasonably high "pillar of society" - eg university academics, senior public servants, MPs, judges, diplomats etc. I know a few people who were entitled to nominate Mr Moore, but I could find no takers.

Hitler et al would have been nominated by one of any number of their partymen in any of these kinds of positions. Being nominated is not the same as "being offered" the prize. Nominations come from almost anywhere. The committee makes the decision.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:40 AM on June 5, 2007

Yeah, I figured that out with continued reading.

Moore would have been an interesting pick; I can only imagine what Fox News would have made of it.
posted by adipocere at 8:55 AM on June 5, 2007

Thanks. This was an interesting read, especially after finishing this article about a Polish Jewish girl's journal being released.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:30 AM on June 5, 2007

Inspiring. And it is nice to have a story about education in Kansas that isn't about banning evolution or state textbook mandates.
posted by grooveologist at 3:33 PM on June 5, 2007

"The term 'hero' irritates me greatly. The opposite is true. I continue to have pangs of conscience that I did so little."

She was arrested in October 1943 and taken to Gestapo headquarters where she was beaten. Her legs and feet were broken and she was then driven away to be executed. But a rucksack of dollars paid by Zegota secured her release. She was knocked unconscious and left by the roadside. She still has to use crutches today as a result of her injuries.

Wow. I never heard about this woman, who of course IS a hero if that word means anything at all.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:40 PM on June 5, 2007

The Hitler thing is an in-joke. It's like tourette's around here with the "You know who else"s. Not a funny joke here, however, since it, for whatever reason, needed explaining.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:51 PM on June 6, 2007

No, not a funny joke. The meaning was actually as intended in my explanation, but it was a totally inappropriate comment in the context, so I am putting my "asshat" hat on & sitting in the corner for a year.

What this woman did is so staggering that typing some shite about it on a website makes one feel like a total dickhead. I wish we had an "awe" version of "." to express speechlessness.

So, here goes: " "

(times seventy five thousand)
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:02 AM on June 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


What's the internet version of a respectful nod and handshake?

Thanks for being human and honest. I'll try to follow your example.
posted by serazin at 8:47 AM on June 7, 2007

She rocks --i wish it was nonstop news on every channel about people like her, instead of Paris Hilton and other nonsense.

This just upset me: regarding the Holocaust Museum just now opening up records found back in 2000: ...survivors, who in any case wish to learn their families’ fates, “are skeptical, because to date every institution holding information about their past and their assets has concealed relevant information.”
posted by amberglow at 1:49 PM on June 9, 2007

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