Irena Sendler, when asked about the thousands of Jewish children she had saved during World War II, said, “I was no hero. I just did a regular thing.”
This is a common sentiment of rescuers. In many ways, they are absolutely right. Greatness is within the grasp of all of us. We just need to take the necessary actions to bring it about.
Irena Sendler was a member of the Polish underground and a nurse living in Warsaw. Working with a group of other women she smuggled roughly 2500 children from the Warsaw ghetto to safety, using whatever means was necessary.
At one point Sendler was discovered by the Nazis and severely tortured, but she never betrayed her collaborators or the children. In the end her life was miraculously spared.
It is interesting to note that Sendler lived in obscurity for most of her life. Even a number of child survivors of the Warsaw ghetto only found out about her shortly before her death. They visited her and tried to make her life more comfortable, but one of the survivors, Vancouver author and teacher Lillian Boraks-Nemetz, noted to me that, “She was very poor but only financially, not in spirit.”
There is a peace that comes in taking the courage to act, in knowing that we did not turn away. It is also something that is available to every one of us. We can all be heroes. We can all be rescuers. By studying the lives of people like Irena Sendler, we come to recognize this truth, and as more and more of us embrace it, we bring the world to a brighter future than we can even imagine.