inspiring: a life well lived

People amaze me. Constantly. If you take the time, and sometimes you have to dig beneath all *the stuff*, there’s astounding treasures to find…

I read about Irena Sendler the other day. Remember her? No? Neither did I. Never heard of her. Ever. Until now. And now I’ll never forget her.

This is Irena. Or was… She died in 2008. She was 98 years old.

Most likely, nobody would’ve known much about her, other than her family. I don’t suppose she had a State Funeral. But Irena was amazing. Inspiring. Generous beyond words.

During World War Two, Irena worked in the Warsaw ghetto as a plumbing/sewing specialist (do those things even go together?) She smuggled Jewish children out – carrying infants in the bottom of the tool box that she carried, and older children in a sack she carried in the back of her truck… WHAT. WHAT?!

She also had a dog that sat in the truck. She trained it to bark when the Nazi soldiers approached the truck as she entered and exited the ghetto. The soldiers wanted nothing to do with the dog, so they’d stay clear. And the barking also covered the sounds of the children and infants.

Irena saved TWO THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED children.


She was eventually caught. She was severely tortured, and sentenced to death. Irena was saved on the way to her execution, by a group who bribed her Nazi guards. She was left unconscious, with both legs and arms shattered.  She was also listed as ‘executed’, so for the remainder of the war, she lived in hiding, while still helping Jewish children.

Irena kept a record of all the names of the children she smuggled out of the ghetto, and kept them in glass jars buried under trees in her back yard. After the war, she tried to locate any surviving parents, and managed to reunite some families. Most parents had been killed. Irena helped the children get placements with foster families, and helped with adoptions.

She was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize a few years ago. She was not selected. AND IT DOESN’T MATTER. What she did for all of those children is worth more than a million Nobel Peace Prizes. And I would bet a million trillion dollars she didn’t do it for an accolade of any kind.

Dearest Irena,
You are an inspiration to me.
Thank you for your example of selflessness and generosity…


A life well and truly lived. WELL LIVED. 




15 thoughts on “inspiring: a life well lived

  1. So beautiful.

    I read about Irena a few months ago, and her story stayed with me as well.

    It pains me that Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize over Irena. Sure, he brought global warming to the attention of the masses. But the COURAGE that Irena had, the compassion and generosity and selflessness and personal sacrifice… you can’t compare!

    Either way, she will not be forgotten.

    Laura xx

  2. That is an incredible story. Where did you learn about her? Also, I’m curious where the photo at the top of your post came from–it really reminds me of a story from a Mary Poppins book.

  3. Thanks Jo for mentioning Irena Sandler. She is so important to be spoken about. We have also been spreading the word. The Anna Paquin film “The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler” should be shown in all schools. Great to find your blog via Sarah Wilson.

  4. Some women are truly amazing & thanks for sharing Irena’s story as like you I had never heard of her. Thank you. Found you via table tonic on twitter.

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