Irena Sendler’s activity in “Żegota”
After 22nd July 1942, when the Germans had begun liquidation operations of the Warsaw Ghetto and mass transports of Jews were leaving the Umschlagplatz to extermination camps, Irena Sendler and her colleagues from the Warsaw Department of Social Welfare and Public Health intensified their efforts to search for additional resources for the inhabitants of the ghetto. Within the closed-off ghetto, prices had increased rapidly. However, the social welfare budget, from which the women financed illegal false documents, had decreased.
The “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews began operations in December 1942. Sendler’s meeting with the Council’s President, Julian Grobelny, most probably took place in January 1943 at the Council’s headquarters at 24 Żurawia Street in Warsaw. Working with “Żegota” enabled the Social Welfare Department workers to intensify their activities. With the additional funds from the Council, they were able to rent apartments on the “Aryan side” for the adults and to support Jewish children who were being cared for by Polish families. Three-quarters of the children being helped outside the ghetto were placed into institutions, such as orphanages and convents.
“Sendler said that the material help received from ‘Żegota’ was minimal, but regular,” writes Anna Bikont, quoting Irena Sendler in her book about this Righteous Among the Nations. “The amounts which those in our care, and who were in hiding, received was insufficient to support their situation and did not keep up with the rising prices. I remember that, at one time, a kilogram of pork fat cost 1,400 zlotys. But in direct contact with those in hiding, I often heard how our help gave them a spark of hope in their tragic situation.”
After 19th April 1943, when the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out, the women provided a network of places – so-called emergency shelters – in which, during times of need, “Żegota” used to prepare documents and to provide safe addresses in which adults and children could hide. Among those addresses were the apartment of Stanisława Bussold on Kałuszyńska Street, a property owned by Irena Schultz on Leszno Street, the Kukulski family flat on 15 Markowska Street or the home of Jadwiga Piotrowska on Lekarska Street. “Her home became an emergency shelter for people leaving the ghetto” – Sendler recalls Piotrowska’s activities.
- The Story of the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews
- The Attitudes of Poles Towards Jews During the Holocaust
- Situation of Jews in occupied Poland
The Children’s Department of “Żegota”
In August 1943, Julian Grobelny established a Children’s Department within “Żegota”. It was headed by Aleksandra Dargiel and included Irena Sendler, Izabella Kuczkowska, Leon Feiner and Adolf Berman. Sendler was responsible for the transferring of money to those in hiding. In emergencies, she would intervene to urgently find a new hiding-place. In October 1943, she took over from Dargiel as department head. At that time, the department had, under its financial care, ninety-nine children. It also assisted emergency cases in convents and in premises run by the Central Welfare Council, organising substitute accommodation.
On 18th October 1943, Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo, perhaps as the result of being denounced by a neighbour. The list of children, which included their real names, was hidden under the clothes of her friend from the Social Welfare Department, who was staying with her at the time, Janina Grabowska. After being questioned at Gestapo headquarters on Aleja Szucha, Sendler was transported to Pawiak Prison from where she was freed, on 13th November, thanks to “Żegota” paying a bribe. A friend from the Department, Maria Palester, had organised this.
For security reasons, Irena Sendler then took the name “Klara Dąbrowska” and changed her residence. After a month, she returned to her position as head of the Children’s Department. Its activities had gradually expanded. In May 1944, it was caring financially for around three-hundred children. The Warsaw Uprising broke the aid network.
Karolina Dzięciołowska / English translation: Andrew Rajcher, May 2018
The article is based on: bibliography
- Irena Sendler’s biography
- Irena Sendler’s network of associates
- Irena Sendler’s children
- Irena Sendler memorabilia
- Remembering Irena Sendler
- Sources on Irena Sendler