Irena Sendler: Unsung Hero and Paragon of Responsibility

Guest post by Sonia Lowman

Imagine having to talk parents into giving up their children with the promise that you only may be able to save them from an otherwise near-sure fate of death. Could you picture carrying this enormous responsibility for the safety of total strangers, all the while risking your own life?

That is exactly what Irena Sendler did. A Catholic social worker in Poland during the Holocaust, Irena snuck into the Warsaw ghetto—risking her life day after day—in order to rescue Jewish children before they could be sent to concentration camps. With the help of the Polish underground resistance, Irena saved 2,500 Jewish children’s lives before being sentenced to death herself and forced into hiding for decades. She spent the rest of her life trying to reunify the Jewish children with any remaining family members, and wishing she had done more.

In the midst of unimaginable horror, throughout a war that persecuted entire populations, Irena felt a responsibility to her fellow human citizens—regardless of their religion or ethnicity. She learned from an early age, “If you see someone drowning, you must jump in to save them, whether you can swim or not.” Her profound courage and compassion serves as a lasting testament to the power of accepting responsibility for the greater good and taking actions to improve the lives of others.

You can read more here about Irena Sendler’s extraordinary story and the example she sets about responsibility, one of the The Six Pillars of Character.

Sonia Lowman is Director of Communications & Partnerships at the Lowell Milken Center (LMC) for Unsung Heroes.