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IRENA'S CHILDREN by Tilar J. Mazzeo


The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto

by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4767-7850-1
Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

The remarkable history of the “female Schindler.”

The story of Irena Sendler (1910-2008), who saved more than 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis, was buried for decades by the communist administration of Poland. It finally came to light in the 1990s, and Mazzeo (The Hotel on Place Vendome: Life, Death, and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris, 2014, etc.) has combed archives and interviewed the few survivors to tell the tale. Like so many who tried to save Jews from the Nazis, Irena would only say she could have done more. When she was 7, her father, a doctor, died working in the typhoid epidemic of 1916-1917, and her mother struggled to educate her. At the University of Warsaw, she rekindled her friendship with Adam Celnikier. He was a radical Jewish lawyer and the love of her life even though both were married. She supported and protected him in hiding throughout the war. In the community internship program at the Polish Free University, Irena met Dr. Helena Radlinska, the driving force behind the resistance of Warsaw. When the Nazis invaded in 1939, resistance quickly built up, led by older men, the Jewish community, and women. That resistance is a large part of the reason Poland was subject to such brutal repression. As a social worker, Irena and her colleagues were able to manipulate paperwork to create new identities. They were also granted passes to enter and leave the Warsaw ghetto, allowing them to smuggle in medicine and false papers and eventually help set up their network to free the children. Sometimes on their own or led by local teens, the children escaped through the filth of the sewers. Irena and her small band found safe houses and orphanages where the children could ride out the war. Her careful records were written on cigarette papers so children could be reunited with surviving family after the war.

Mazzeo chronicles a ray of hope in desperate times in this compelling biography of a brave woman who refused to give up.