Pa Boy Views
Teach Your Children Well
It was no picnic to be a Catholic social worker for the city of Warsaw and serve in the Polish underground during World War Two, especially during the German occupation; but, such was Irena Sendler’s lot. As head of the children’s section of Zegota, a dissident resistance organization, she was aided by a network of up to thirty others, and what she accomplished was nothing less than incredible.
Of course, that it was pure hell being Jewish in Warsaw during that time is a gross understatement. Soon after the Nazis invaded Poland in Sept 1939, they crammed more than 450,000 Jews, about a third of the population of Warsaw, into a three square kilometer section (about one third larger than the French Quarter) of the city and surrounded by seven foot walls, they awaited transportation to Treblinka and other extermination camps: ‘the ghetto’. By 1943 only 55,000 were left, awaiting the trip. Irena Sendler (code name Jolanta), as a nurse, had a special permit giving her access to the ghetto, allegedly to keep down the threat of typhus, tuberculosis and other diseases, that the Nazis believed would spread to the rest of the city if not kept in check.
By 1943 she and her aides had smuggled 2,500 babies and children out of the ghetto, furnished them with homes and falsified papers. The children were smuggled out in tool boxes, trashcans, potato sacks, suitcases, under the floorboards of ambulances and in coffins. They were given non-Jewish identities and placed in convents, orphanages, hospitals and with sympathetic families; Jolanta kept the names, and identities of the children that she had rescued hidden in jars, so that after the war she could reunite them with their families, most of whom never survived the camps. Accounts differ as to how the jars and names were secreted but one fact remains: on October 20, 1942 she was arrested by the Gestapo and questioned for that information. She was beaten severely, tortured and had both of her legs and feet broken from which she never fully recovered. She did not give the information ‘requested’. She spent the next sixty-six years on crutches, proving that no good deed goes unpunished. That’s the short version and I’m sure if this interests you you can find out more on your own.
Point is: here we are in February 2013 with Super Bowl on the 3rd, Mardi Gras on the 12th and Valentine’s Day on the 14th. Presidents Day on the 18th and Purim on the 24th figure in there also. I’m here to tug on your coat tail with another date: February 15th.
On February 15th 1910 about 15 kilometers southeast of Warsaw the baby girl who became Jolanta, Irena Sendler (nee Krzyzanoska), the ‘angel of the ghetto’, was born; and now that date, February 15th, has become a holiday for me. Why? Because it symbolizes the fact that one person can make a difference by being brave, taking chances and being selfless. Making a difference.
Most of us will never be called to make such a difference and more’s the pity, for - possibly - inside us all resides a hero. Someone who will go the extra mile no matter the personal cost; someone who realizes-- and here’s the rub — that if this good deed does not get done by them, that will not be done at all. Most of us will be content with minor inconveniences and never be called upon to make what you could call really hard choices, a sacrifice or risk our lives. Irena Sendler said that “Heroes do extraordinary things. It was no extraordinary thing that I did. It was normal”. She said that she was taught that “if you saw a person drowning that you should jump in to save them even if you don’t know how to swim”.
Okay, so here I’m supposed to extol the reader to cough up honor, integrity and a sense of what is right and good like a favored feline hocks up a hairball; as if it is something that gets turned on and off like a switch when, in fact, it’s not. It’s a life that has to be lived. We develop counter-heroic aversions that help us get by in life and as we age we become addicted to them; our mettle is rarely tested. Think about it; we seldom exercise or reach our potential.
It’s a rare person who has the ability to do the right thing under adverse circumstances; the rest of us simply don’t know how. I think that in the adult generations – who turned a blind eye and heart to positive role models -- there is little hope. Perhaps the children. I know! What if when we’re around the young and impressionable we pretend that we are better people? Who knows? Maybe we can fool them into giving us a better world. Maybe we can inspire them. It’s worth a shot. Perhaps we could even fool ourselves into becoming heroes.
There are forces for good and forces for wickedness -- specifically in ourselves and in the world in general. We draw inspiration from the good things around us and from others that we see making a difference. For myself, I know that I really really have the best intentions to bring the best person that I can be to the surface of my being. I have been inspired. I don’t always put those inspirations into action. Inspiration without action becomes intention and I know the road that is paved with intentions.
Evil has been kicking our asses for as long as memory; greed and hatred run rampant throughout the world as well as in people. That doesn’t mean that it has to stay that way.