Irena Sendler arrested by gestapo 75 years ago

Mateusz Szczepaniak / English translation: Andrew Rajcher, 17th October 2018
On 18th October 1943, the Gestapo conducted a search of Irena Sendler's apartment at 6 Ludwiki Street in Czyste district of Warsaw. Following a prolonged search, Sendler was taken to Gestapo headquarters at Szucha Avenue, where she was interrogated and was then taken to Pawiak Prison. From the beginning of that October, she served as director of the Children's Department of the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews.

Eleven of the came. The Gestapo breaks floorboards, rips out tiles from the stove, with crazed shouting, pushing and accusations – Irena Sendler recalling the search*

In the apartment were her ill mother Janina Krzyżanowska née Grzybowska (1882–1944), as well as her colleague from the Warsaw Social Welfare Department, Janina Grabowska. Under the bed was hidden money from the underground, identity cards and birth certificates, but they were not found by the Germans. Under her clothes, Grabowska hid cards containing the names and addresses of children who were being helped.

Anna Bikont points out that:

Sendler linked her arrest with an event at 5 Bracka Street. The owner of a laundry located there, who had served as a contact point, had been arrested. However, shortly before her death, Sendler said that, as it turned out, her arrest had actually resulted from a neighbour's denunciation.

After the apartment had been searched, she was was taken to Gestapo headquarters at Szucha Avenue:

They tortured me to give up names in the organisation, the leadership, addresses and that then a limousine would take me home. They showed me a list of denunciations against me. I know that those denunciations came from ONR (Radical Nationalist) circles […] The organisation wanted to give me cyanide, even when I was free. But I didn't want it, so as not to take it too soon.

She was then taken to Pawiak Prison where, during the following week, she worked in the laundry and was beaten during interrogations. On13th November, together with a group of prisoners, she was designated for execution yet, on the same day, she was set free. This was the result of the efforts of her colleagues Jadwiga Piotrowska and Maria Palester, who had persuaded the Chairman of the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews, Julian Grobelny, to pay a bribe which, with the help of Małgorzata Palester, was handed over to the Germans. Over the following months, other members of “Żegota” were also arrested . On 4th January 1944, blackmailers, accompanied by Polish police, arrested Adolf Berman and, on 1st March, as the result of be denounced, Julian Grobelny was also arrested.

After leaving Pawiak Prison, Sendler returned to her apartment at Ludwiki Street but, as she recalled:

A member of the NSZ [Narodowe Siły Zbrojne – ed.] came twice to my home, wanting to hand me over to the Gestapo.

Over the following months, using false documents under the name “Klara Dąbrowska” she hid, in among other places, in the apartment of Maria Kukulska and her daughter Anna, at Markowska Street, in the Praga district of Warsaw. Over several months, her future husband, Adam Celnikier, also stayed there. He had escaped from the Warsaw ghetto.

Read the story of the Kukulski Family »

 *Citation from: A. Bikont, Sendlerowa. W ukryciu, Wołowiec 2017.