During the Second World War, Irena Sendler, a Polish Roman Catholic nurse and social worker, received permission to travel into and out of the Warsaw ghetto as a plumbing/sewer specialist.
She had an ulterior motive.
Irena smuggled Jewish infants out of the Ghetto in the bottom of the toolbox that she carried. She also carried a burlap sack in the back of her truck, for larger kids.
Irena kept a dog in the back of truck, as well. She trained the dog to bark whenever she approached the Nazi soldiers at the Ghetto’s checkpoints. The soldiers, of course, wanted nothing to do with the dog, and the barking covered any noises made by the children.
It’s estimated that at least 300,000 Jews from the Ghetto were killed, either within the Ghetto itself or in the extermination camps at Treblinka and elsewhere. But Irena Sendler managed to smuggle out and save 2500 Jewish children.
Ultimately, though, she was caught, and the Nazis broke both of her legs and arms, beat her severely, sent her to a labor camp, and sentenced her to death.
Still, she survived.
Irena kept a record, in a glass jar that she buried under a tree in her backyard, of the names of all the children she had smuggled out. After the war, she tried to locate any parents who might have survived and attempted to reunite those children with their families.
Most family members had been gassed. So most of the kids that she had helped were placed with foster families or adopted.
In 2007, Irena was nominated by the government of Poland for the Nobel Peace Prize.
But she wasn’t selected.
Instead, Al Gore won.
In 2008, a Finn by the name of Martti Ahtisaari took the prize. That was the year in which Irena Sendler died, at the age of ninety-eight, in Warsaw.