The 72nd anniversary of the creation of The Council To Aid Jews

The 4th of December is the 72nd anniversary of the creation of the Council to Aid Jews, codename ‘Żegota’, as part of the Government Delegation for Poland. It was the only government institution in German-occupied Europe dedicated to saving Jews from the Holocaust.

Wide sendlerowa

The Council was headed by Julian Grobelny, Tadeusz Rek and Leon Feiner from the General Jewish Labor Bund, Adolf Berman became the Secretary and Ferdynand Arczyński the Treasurer. After the Council was created the Executive Bureau was formed with all its divisions which included: Housing, Child Welfare, Medical and the Field section. 

Żegota’s purpose was clear. In a communiqué directed to the Government Delegate for Poland we read: “The Council’s task is to help Jews, the victims of the invader’s extermination attempts. Provide help in form of saving them from death, legalizing their status, assigning them living spaces, according them financial aid or, when possible, finding them jobs allowing them to provide for themselves, managing and distributing funds — any activity that can be considered direct or indirect help.”

Żegota gave material assistance to around 4 thousand people as well as organizing documents (around 50 thousand), finding housing, hiding places and medical assistance if possible for those who escaped the ghetto. One of Żegota’s most important tasks was saving Jewish children- a special cell was created for this purpose called the Child Welfare section. This section was headed by Irena Sendler codename “Jolanta” who, even before the creation of the Council, when she worked for Social Services in Warsaw managed to organize permits allowing entrance to the ghetto for herself and a few of her colleagues, including Irena Schultz. Under the guise of sanitation inspections they would smuggle in money, food, medicine and typhus vaccines for the Jewish population. 

Sendler, who had previous experience with conspiratorial work, fared very well as the head of the Child Welfare division. Together with many other liaisons including: Stanisława Bussold, Jadwiga Deneko, Wanda Drozdowska-Rogowicz, Izabela Kuczkowska, Zofia Patecka, Jadwiga Piotrowska and Wincent Ferster they managed to save a few hundred children. The exact number is still unknown. Teresa Preker published, in her book about Żegota’s secret activities, a statement written down in 1979 by four of the most active helpers of the Jewish children, which summed up the results and the actions taken in the name of their cause between 1939 and 1945. Irena Sendler, Wanda Drozdowska- Rogowicz, Izabela Kuczkowska and Jadwiga Piotrowska were the authors of this document. Their statement reads: “We estimate (today after 40 years it is difficult to determine it exactly) the number of children which Żegota helped in various ways to be around 2500.” After being smuggled out of the ghetto the children were placed with Polish families or nurseries run by nuns in Warsaw or outside of the city e.g. in Anin, Chotomów, Henryków, Płudy and Turkowice. The methods of saving the youngest citizens of the ghetto were various and included drugging very young children (sometimes even infants) with sleeping pills and smuggling them out in sacks, boxes, wooden chest or even ambulances. Older children would leave the ghetto for example through the Courthouse in Leszno Street whose front entrance lead to the ghetto and the back entrance from Ogrodowa street lead to the Aryan side. Very often however the only way out of the ghetto lead through the sewage and basements of the houses on the ghetto’s borders. Much older children could leave the ghetto with the so-called work teams. At dawn they would leave the ghetto among a crowd of adults heading to the Aryan side to provide manual labor. Once they got past the wall the liaisons would take over their care. All the children, regardless of their age, would be first taken to one of the ten emergency shelters for children where they would spend, depending on their needs, anywhere form a couple of days to a couple of weeks acclimating to the new conditions. During that time new identity documents, most often belonging to deceased Polish children, were organized for them. 

Irena Sendler received the title of Righteous Among Nations in 1965 for the help she provided to Jewish children during the German occupation and risking her life and the lives of her family in the process. 

We invite those of you who are interested in learning more about Sendler herself, her activities during the war and her fate after the war to a meeting concerning the book “The one who was saving Jews. About Irena Sendler.” on the 4th December at 6 p.m. The book’s author Halina Grubowska and the director of the Taube Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Poland Helise Lieberman will take part in the discussion. 

Halina Grubowska’s book presents the life and achievements of Irena Sendler. The author based her story on archival materials and the observations she made during her longstanding friendship with Irena Sendler. What makes this book unique is the simple, direct and factual way it presents Sendler’s heroic work during the Holocaust. Facts are the key elements of this tale. It is as far from pathos and legend as possible.

Professor Michał Głowiński who was one of the children saved by Irena Sendler wrote the foreword. The book will be available at a special price during the meeting.

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