“There is no time! You agreed I would take her! You must let her go!”
No, please! Jolanta, please! No!”
The terrified mother turned her back on her child’s last chance for life. Her body shook with fear and anguish.
“If you don’t, you condemn her to death, woman! Please! Please give me the baby!” Jolanta pleaded, but the woman’s back remained turned to the rescuer.
The ambulance driver honked, warning Jolanta that their time was well passed. Every moment of delay brought danger ever closer. Any deviation from the carefully planned rescues could spell death to the children they were trying to save, as well as themselves.
With a heavy heart, Jolanta turned from the pathetic scene and clamored into the truck as it drove off.
The year was 1942: the place: the Warsaw Ghetto. The Nazis had herded over 500,000 Polish Jews into less than one square kilometer of Poland where they were held in wait of transport to the Nazis extermination camps. Irena sat silent and solemn in the ambulance as they bounced down the war-torn road—everything was in shambles these days. So much had changed….And so quickly. Just six months ago she was Irena Sendler, a social worker whose life was a blissful broken record. But World War ll had shattered her record player. Now thinking of her old identity could get her shot. Jolanta, Jolanta, she would repeat over and over again to herself. Criminal, savior, Jew.
Jolanta looked out her rear-view mirror and her heart jumped into her throat. The red light swirling on the vehicle’s roof broke the comfort of the thick darkness, and the distance between the ominous crimson beam and the ambulance was closing quickly. Jolanta gnawed on her heart for several moments as she watch the car gain on the ambulance with its precious cargo. Finally she saw the headlights disappear around the other side of their transport as it passed them on the other side of the road. Her heart returned to her chest. Hearing a noise in the back of the ambulance, Jolanta opened the partition and climbed into the back, happy to have something to distract her frantic nerves.
“No, no, not you, Fritzy!” she said, turning her face away from the over friendly German shepherd just to get a wet nose in her ear. Shoving the large animal out of the way, Jolanta climbed over the three other dogs and reached for the crying baby. She held the little one close, thanking God that there were some parents who had the strength to let go of their children that they might have a chance at survival. Fritzy nuzzled the little baby and he calmed, nodding off again despite the constant jostling.
“Jolanta! We’re coming to a check-point. Best get back up here quickly” The German shepherds snarled, baring their teeth. “Not yet, not yet, you ferocious beasts! You don’t want to wake the children if you don’t need to.”
She had just closed off the partition as they were slowing down to meet the guards at the gate. “Passes!” they yelled, their flashlights and rifles aimed at Jolanta and her partner. They each held up their badges, which allowed them to move somewhat freely through the cities. “What is in the back? The guard asked, inching his weapon a little closer to her counterpart’s face. “Cargo to be shipped from Poland, due to the war effort.” “Check it!” the Nazis barked. Two guards moved to the back of the vehicle. Immediately the four dogs began barking and growling ferociously. The two men exchanged a fearful look and took a step. “Check it!” the order was barked once more. The men stood there wondering whose bite would be worse—their commanding officer’s or the shepherd dogs’. Seeing the reticence of his underlings, the officer made a move to check himself. With the dogs vicious clamor intensified, covering the noise of the fearful, crying children and scaring off the guards, they were doing a capital job! The commanding Nazis also backed off and waved them on. Jolanta smiled at her counterpart. “Not even their own dogs like them.” She whispered to him. A smile played at her mouth, and her eyes twinkled with ironic humor.
As they drove through the check-point, Irena took a jar out, cleverly concealed somewhere in the ambulance interior. She had kept careful record of each child’s name and stored it safely in this small glass container, in hopes of one day restoring the children to any surviving family. She clutched her jar close to her heart and bowed her head silently. “One hundred eighty-six, Lord. Thank you. You have saved one hundred eighty-six. Yet this is still too few. If you help us, we can have ten times as many. Please, Lord,” she prayed over her precious treasure trove. Her life’s work was summed up in this little jar with wads of paper jammed into it.
Irena Sendler continued her operation with Zegota, until, eventually, the Nazis became suspicious and arrested her in 1943. She was tortured and sentenced to death for her treachery against the Third Reich—a sentence she bore proudly, never once breathing even a hint of information that might endanger her associates, the children, or their cause, no matter the ferocity of the Nazi rage. In route of her execution, a guard, bought by Zegota, arranged for her escape. Though listed among the executed, Irena was yet among the living, and active. She returned to her work with Zegota protected by the German’s belief in her death. And in the time that followed, God continued to work in answer to her prayers.
Before her death on May 12, 2008, she was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s highest civilian honor, among others, and was credited with saving the lives of over 3,000 children from the terror of the Nazi regime, far more then what she had asked of Him.