Irena Sendler's "Order of the Smile" on Display at POLIN Museum

Klara Jackl / English translation: Andrew Rajcher, 11th April 2018
Irena Sendler often said that the "Order of the Smile" was the best medal which she had ever received. She was awarded it on 11th April 2007. According to a tradition, during the ceremony, she drank lemon juice, under the watchful of a gathering of children who checked to see whether she would wince. On the 11th anniversary of this presentation of the Order, and as part of the Year of Irena Sendler, the POLIN Museum is placing this medal on public display.

At the initiative of children, who independently nominate candidates, the "Order of the Smile" has been presented since 1968. In 2007, Irena Sendler was nominated by Szymon Płóciennik who, at the time, was a fifteen-year-old. Her "Order of the Smile" medal was presented to Irena Sendler a year prior to her passing.

Along with Irena Sendler's other awards, documents and memorabilia, the Order medal was presented to the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews by her daughter, Janina Zgrzembska. Part of the collection includes her "Righteous Among the Nations" medal and certificate, the Order of the White Eagle and the Knight's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta. Viewable on-line.

The display of her "Order of the Smile" medal at POLIN Museum is linked to the current Year of Irena Sendler. In establishing it, the Polish parliament "honoured her for, with the greatest dedication, acting to save others” - as the Act stated and which was supported by members of the Sejm. The initative to make 2018 the Year of Irena Sendler came from Marek Michalak, Spokesman for the Rights of Children, in order to coincide with the 10th anniversary of her passing.

As part of the Year of Irena Sendler, the POLIN Museum has established the "How Should We Teach About the Righteous", a training program for teachers. It provides online information and educational material regarding the life and wartime activities of Irena Sendler. The Museum itself has placed memorabilia from its collection, including her "Righteous Among the Nations" medal, her Order of the White Eagle (on display from January to April 2018) and her "Order of the Smile" medal.

Read Irena Sendler's biography

Between 1939 and 1942, Irena Sendler (1910–2008) worked in the Warsaw's Social Welfare Department, where she organised a group who rescued children by leading them out of the Warsaw ghetto. From 1943, she worked with the "Żegota” Council to Aid Jews. In 1943, she was arrested by the Gestapo, but the Council to Aid Jews bribed officials to release her. After the War, she continued as a social worker. In 1965, Irena Sendler was honoured with the title of "Righteous Among the Nations".


Irena Sendler's "Order of the Smile" can be viewed at the POLIN Museum's Information Centre from 11th April 2018.