Irena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghettoby Tilar J. Mazzeo

Published September 27th 2016 by Gallery Books

5 Stars

Synopsis: From the New York Times bestselling author of The Widow Clicquot comes an extraordinary and gripping account of Irena Sendler—the “female Oskar Schindler”—who took staggering risks to save 2,500 children from death and deportation in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.
In 1942, one young social worker, Irena Sendler, was granted access to the Warsaw ghetto as a public health specialist. While there, she reached out to the trapped Jewish families, going from door to door and asking the parents to trust her with their young children. She started smuggling them out of the walled district, convincing her friends and neighbors to hide them. Driven to extreme measures and with the help of a network of local tradesmen, ghetto residents, and her star-crossed lover in the Jewish resistance, Irena ultimately smuggled thousands of children past the Nazis. She made dangerous trips through the city’s sewers, hid children in coffins, snuck them under overcoats at checkpoints, and slipped them through secret passages in abandoned buildings.
But Irena did something even more astonishing at immense personal risk: she kept secret lists buried in bottles under an old apple tree in a friend’s back garden. On them were the names and true identities of those Jewish children, recorded with the hope that their relatives could find them after the war. She could not have known that more than ninety percent of their families would perish.
In Irena’s Children, Tilar Mazzeo tells the incredible story of this courageous and brave woman who risked her life to save innocent children from the Holocaust—a truly heroic tale of survival, resilience, and redemption.

My Review: Tilar Mazzeo went to Poland and stumbled upon this story when she saw all the lights in the forest. She researched and what she found compelled her to write Irena’s story. I read a children’s version of Irena Sendler’s story Jars of Hope a little while ago. I had not heard of Irena or her heroic efforts to save the children before that. I was very impressed with this woman and when I saw this book I wanted to read it to find out more about this incredible woman. I actually had to put this book down a couple of times and read something lighter because the atrocities that happened in Poland, particularly Warsaw were horrific. When this young woman decides that she needs to do what she can to save the children from death, she set to the task without being deterred by the dangers to herself. The book can be dry in parts, but it is a mesmerizing story. The resistance in Poland had such strength of character and the moral right on their side.

Mazzeo does an amazing job of setting the scene for the reader, I could picture what was going on almost as it I was there, although I am glad I was not. She brings the characters to life in a way that makes the reader feel as if you really know them. You can feel what they feel from despair, pain, discouragement, fear and in some cases relief and excitement. Irena’s cell of “saviors” were so important to her story. She constantly said she was not a hero, there were so many others that risked so much more than she did and many of them were mentioned in the book. I felt sick in my heart to know that anyone had to endure what these people lived through. The number of Polish people (both Jewish and non-Jewish) that perished during this time was unbelievable. The strength shown by so few to save as many as they could is empowering knowing that good will go up against evil to save even one. This is a must read for those who are interested in WWII, not for the fighting and war, but for the positive spirit shown by so many that had been counted down and out. As they were referred to in the book by the Germans, “Untermensch” or subhuman showed that they were the most human of all.