In most countries around the world, one of the major symbols of death is a coffin. It is seen as a resting spot for the bodies of the deceased before they are buried in the ground. Coffins have long served their purpose of carrying the dead but during World War I, the coffin would serve a different purpose. The Nazi Germans were systematically killing Jewish people and anyone else deemed a real or potential threat to their regime. The senseless killings were not limited to adults but also included children as well. Mercy was not granted to anyone with Jewish lineage by the Nazi Germans and their final resolve was to eradicate the Jewish people from the face of the earth. However, everyone in Germany at that time did not have the same perspective as the Nazis and most fought openly or secretly against the Nazi’s motives, putting their own lives at risk to help protect and hide Jewish people.
All human beings have the capacity to love and be kind and some may lose their way when they get wrapped up in political, racial and societal beliefs, but others know deep down inside what is truly right and what is truly wrong. Irena Sendler was one of those people. She was a Polish nurse who went against the Nazis by saving more that 2500 Jewish children. Sendler used coffins, symbols of death, to save lives. She used them as a means to smuggle Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto to safety. In addition to that, Irena also provided them with false identification and helped in placing them with non Jewish families. Her efforts to help Jewish children not only put her at risk, but also her entire family. In German-occupied Poland, the law stated that anyone giving any kind of assistance to Jews would be punished by death, not just for the one person proving the help, but for the entire family or household.
Irena was the head of the children’s department of Zegota, an organization for the aid of Jews in Occupied Poland. She would enter into the ghettos under the guise that she was checking for contagious diseases and would sneak children out from the church and others too small to fake Catholicism, out by toolboxes, gunny sacks and even coffins. When the Gestapo finally caught up with Irena Sendler, she was severely tortured and scheduled to be executed. The members of Zegota bribed a guard and Irena was left in the woods unharmed instead of being executed by a firing squad.
Irena passed away on May 3rd, 2008. Her efforts to reunite the saved children with their parents never happened because majority of the adults were killed by the Nazis. Sendler risked her life and the lives of her family to save Jewish children in a time when few would even consider helping. Irena wrote “My parents taught me, that if a man is drowning, it is irrelevant what is his religion or nationality is. One must help him.”