Intersection Column | Smugglers of Hope
by Amanda Barratt
In the autumn of 1940, a year after Hitler’s troops invaded Poland, the Nazi occupiers decreed the establishment of a “Jewish district” in the city of Warsaw. This order forced thousands of men, women and children to pack their belongings, leave their homes, and move to a designated section of the city—an area of 1.3 square miles, surrounded by a high brick wall. It would become known as the largest ghetto in occupied Poland with an estimated 460,000 inhabitants. Life within its walls soon took on the quality of a nightmare. Children huddled on the sidewalks, begging for bread. Corpses littered the streets. Typhus ravaged the ghetto, claiming its victims by the thousands. By mid-1942, 83,000 people had died, mainly from starvation and disease. Isolated from the outside, the “city within a city” had become a world engulfed by despair.
On the other side of the wall, a courageous few refused to stand by—a group of women employed by Warsaw’s welfare department among them. One of the women was Irena Sendler, a social worker in her early thirties. Irena and a few colleagues managed to obtain passes authorizing them to enter the ghetto on matters of sanitation and epidemic control. At first, the women smuggled food, medicine and typhus vaccines into the walled district, but as time passed, they embarked on an even more dangerous mission—smuggling children out.
In the summer of 1942, the urgency of their efforts grew when the German authorities commenced the deportation of the ghetto’s population. Day upon day, week after week, trains packed with humanity departed. Soon the truth began to trickle out about the destination of the transports. Not labor camps as the Jews had been told, but an extermination camp called Treblinka. There, over a matter of weeks, the SS and their auxiliaries carried out the murder of approximately 265,000 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto.
The Nazi occupiers had clearly stated the penalty for providing aid or shelter to any Jewish person. Execution. Still, the network of rescuers remained dauntless. They knew their efforts would be but a drop in an ocean of need. But they would do what they could to save the most vulnerable. As the horror of the deportations unfolded, Jewish mothers placed their children into the hands of Irena and her colleagues in the hope that a small life might somehow outlast the darkness. The sacrifice of these mothers—many of whom later perished at Treblinka—would forever remain in the memory of those who brought children out of the ghetto.
Children were smuggled out by way of buildings bordering the ghetto, in ambulances and trams, in crates and sacks, in work brigades leaving the ghetto, and through the sewer canals. The network then placed the children with Polish families or in convents and orphanages. In this way, they rescued hundreds of children. The underground organization Żegota, of which Irena was a key member, aided as many as 2,500 Jewish children. Years after the war, Yad Vashem honored Irena Sendler and several of her colleagues as Righteous Among the Nations.
The story of Irena and her comrades became one of the inspirations for my novel, The Warsaw Sisters, which explores the oft-forgotten history of Poland during WWII. As I researched and wrote, I was left in awe by true accounts of resistance and resilience. Those who rescued and sheltered children did not consider themselves heroes. When asked about their experiences in later years, they spoke of their regret for having not done enough. But they left an extraordinary legacy. Three million Polish Jews perished in the Holocaust, yet every life saved became a testament to hope. Against the black night of those years, flickers of light kindled and burned bright. Candles illuminating the darkness. The quiet courage of the ordinary prevailing over hate.
About the Author
Amanda Barratt is the bestselling author of numerous historical novels and novellas, including The White Rose Resists (a 2021 Christy Award winner) and Within These Walls of Sorrow. She is passionate about illuminating oft-forgotten facets of history through a fictional narrative. Amanda lives in Michigan. Learn more at www.amandabarratt.net.
About the Book
When bombs fall on Warsaw, Antonina turns her worry into action and becomes a key figure in a daring network of women risking their lives to shelter Jewish children. Helena finds herself drawn into the ranks of Poland's secret army, joining the fight to free her homeland from occupation. But the secrets both are forced to keep threaten to tear these sisters apart.
Did You Know?
Bread is one of the most popular foods around the world and comes in a variety of sizes, tastes and textures. Bread has been an important part of cultures and civilizations throughout history and is often referred to as the “staff of life.” Bread has been incorporated into religious sacraments and is a symbol of nourishment and sustenance. It is one of the only foods that is eaten by people of every race, religion and culture. Here are some facts about bread that you might find interesting:
Before rubber erasers were invented, a rolled-up piece of white bread was used to erase graphite.
The longer you chew bread, the sweeter it tastes. Saliva contains an enzyme called amylase which breaks down starch in bread into simpler sugars, giving it a sweeter taste.
The largest loaf of bread weighed 3,463.46 lb (1,571 kg) and was made by Joaquim Goncalves in Brazil on November 13, 2008, in celebration of Guinness World Records Day.
In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread,” as He asked His Father to provide physical nourishment. Just like we need physical nourishment, we also need daily spiritual nourishment. In John 6:35 (NIV) Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” God provides all that we need, and He gave us Jesus, who gives us food for our souls.
-Crystal Bowman, Our Daily Bread for Kids: 365 Devotions from Genesis to Revelation
Why I LOVE My Local Christian Bookstore
“Bookstores are my husband's and my favorite date spot. We enjoy finding new authors and deep-diving into subjects we are researching.”
-Janet Holm McHenry, Praying Personalities