Irena Sendler’s Network of Associates

Irena Sendler’s activities were made possible thanks to the collaboration of many individuals. A dozen or so women from this group were amongst the pupils of Helena Radlińska, a professor who, before the War, in the Social and Education Work Study of the Polish Free University in Warsaw, created a nursery for an entire generation of social workers.

Amongst those closest to Irena Sendler were colleagues from the Warsaw Department of Social Welfare and Public Health. They included Jadwiga Piotrowska, Irena Schultz and Jadwiga Deneko. After the Germans entered Poland, Irena and the others gained experience which she later used to head the Children’s Department of the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews.

The Warsaw Department of Social Welfare

“Consciously and with premeditation,” as she emphasised after the War, they circumvented regulations laid down by the occupant. The circle of those trusted expanded to include those responsible for civil registries, in the Municipal Registry Department and in social welfare centres (one of those was Zofia Patecka in the centre at 12 Srebrna Street). But, at the beginning of 1943, she did not link up with the “Żegota” structure. It was safer to act on your own.

Jadwiga Piotrowska came up with the idea of false papers. 

The basis for providing assistance in social care was a background survey. The idea was to fake these surveys. So, we would write some random Polish surname and thus we got money or clothing. These things were then collected by trusted individuals and next they were delivered to Jewish families,” recalled Irena Sendler.

“During the raging terror of the Nazi authorities and the increasing persecution of the Jewish population, Social Welfare Department staff decided to provide special care to Jewish children,” wrote Piotrowska in a statement. “Using their contacts in care facilities and the possibility of placing children there, they sent Jewish children to those facilities, thereby saving them from death.”

The Father Boduen Home

Irena Schultz, a friend of co-organisers of the Centos Centre (the Centre of Associations Caring for Orphans) in the ghetto, took children from them and placed them at the Father Boduen Home on 75 Nowogrodzka Street. “I knew that this place was under constant Gestapo fire,” she wrote in a letter to Jan Dobraczyński:

“I wasn’t sure whether it would be possible to save him (a child from the ghetto – ed.), whether it would be safe. I remember the relief when Irena Sendler, hearing my fears, said, ‘You can be calm about the child’. Not only for this child, but for many others, endangered little ones, this house became, without a shadow of a doubt, a gateway to life.” 

Władysława Marynowska, a student of Professor Radlińska, worked there. Irena Schultz made contact with her. She would provide information about the transfer of a child by phone, with a code containing data on the child's appearance and time of arrival. These activities were carried out with the knowledge and acceptance of the Home’s director Maria Prokopowicz-Wierzbowska. She, herself, offered Janusz Korczak care for the youngest of the children in his orphanage.

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Jadwiga Deneko was active in helping Jews and in the underground:

“[…] She arranged for me to be at that orphanage, to be as far away from Warsaw as possible,” recalled Katarzyna Meloch, a Holocaust survivor. “To me, a ten or eleven-year-old girl, she wrote letters and sent food parcels. She retained personal contact with the Turkowice nuns.” 

She helped distribute the Workers’ Party of Polish Socialists publications and, together with the compositor Ludomir Marczak, she looked after a group of fourteen Jews who were hiding in a basement on Nowiniarska Street in Warsaw. It was also there that, as the result of being betrayed, she was arrested together Marczak and those in hiding. She was shot by the Germans in the ghetto ruins in January 1944.

Directors of the Warsaw Department of Social Welfare

Jan Starczewski, Social Welfare Department director, helped the women in their activities. “He knew perfectly well that I had been given a pass into the ghetto, which he accepted (…) that I used to help victims in the ghetto,” recalled Irena Schultz, years later. “Is it possible not to speak about Jan Starczewski, who was well aware how he exposed himself as our boss?” He, himself, wrote:

“A group of the Department’s staff, under the pretext of fighting an epidemic – and the Department’s sanitary service – were provided with passes enabling them to enter the ghetto. Thanks to that, we were able to maintain direct contacts with welfare activists and institutions inside the ghetto.”

In February 1943, when Starczewski was arrested by the Gestapo, his role was taken over by Antoni Chaciński. As the result in a change of leadership, the welfare of those shut in the ghetto was then headed by Jan Dobraczyński:

“As the son of a former Social Welfare Director, still well-known in the field and in religious circles, I enjoyed great popularity with the managers of those care facilities. […] I decided to call upon their help. I found care facilities, especially convents, whose leaders I could completely trust. I decided to be open with them. I said that we would send a certain number of children to them. They had to know that they were Jewish children and that they were coming on the basis of falsified background surveys. The identification sign was to be my personal signature authorising the transfer of the child (normally this would be authorised by the department head).”

Sendler’s Network of Associates

The list of partners, from “Żegota” times, which Irena Sendler prepared in one of her statements after the War, indicates who was responsible for which activities:

  • contacts with convents were maintained by Jan Dobraczyński and Jadwiga Piotrowska;

  • contact with the Central Welfare Council was under the jurisdiction of Aleksandra Dargielowa;

  • liaison officers with the Father Boduen Home were Maria Krasnodębska and Stanisława Zybertówna;

  • young people were directed to the partisans by Jadwiga Bilwin, Julian Grobelny, Andrzej Klimowicz and Jadwiga Koszutska;

  • finding Polish families to look after the children was the task of Jadwiga Bilwin, Wanda Drozdowska-Rogowiczowa, Wincenty Ferster, Lucyna Franciszkiewicz, Janina Grabowska, Helena Grobelna, Izabella Kuczkowska, Maria Kukulska, Jadwiga Koszutska, Helena Małuszyńska, Maria Palestrowa, Stanisław Papuziński, Irena Schultz, Kazimiera Trzaskalska, Joanna Waldowa and Zofia Wędrychowska.

Moreover, finding friendly doctors who would help provide medicine to children in hiding or aid in their hospitalisation were Zofia Franio, Hanna Kołodziejczyk, Juliusz Majkowski, Mieczysław Ropek, Helena Szeszko and Andrzej Trojanowski.

Karolina Dzięciołowska / English translation: Andrew Rajcher, May 2018
The article is based on: bibliography

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