“Stefania. We are at war. You are a soldier now. A soldier must be tough or she cannot fight.” says Irena to her team member who happens to accompany her for the first time into a jewish ghetto in German occupied Poland.
If you ask for Google’s help to know the list of Pro-Life movies what often pops up are Silent Scream, October Baby, Gimme Shelter, Life is Beautiful, juno, Bella, Where hope grows, Apocalypto, It’s a girl, Maafa 21, A distant thunder, the Drop box and some short films like : Volition, Crescendo, 40 and Thine Eyes . After going through about 20 websites of such list I came to a conclusion that none had mentioned about a powerful story. A real life account of how a catholic social worker saved the life of 2500 jewish children from the Ghetto.
When faced with the institutionalized injustice committed to the 400,000 jews during her time in Warsaw, Poland, just like the extermination of 58 million(+) babies in America, Irena felt an unavoidable and even more compelling need to do something. What could she do? She is not a german, she is not even ‘He’ as that can be advantageous sometimes, she is not in a politically powerful position, neither financially. However as Bl.Mother Teresa of Calcutta said :
“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”
Irena smuggled a jewish child out of Ghetto, securely placing the child in the care of a polish family who agreed to take the little one as one of their own, risking torture and capital punishment in concentration camps.
Was this a one time endeavour? certainly no. It was ‘one child at a time’ effort. Irena along with a small group of 20 other secret messengers would smuggle babies in wooden boxes after the mothers fed them well enough for them not to cry. The children would be smuggled in ambulance, through manhole, and in packages using several tricks and teenagers through special routes after obtaining a polish identity through fake names and who can be abruptly stopped and asked to make a ‘sign of the Cross’ or recite ‘Our Father’. This activity involved several people working undercover with hidden identities, inside as well as outside the Ghetto. Yet again another example for the verse: “Perfect love casts out fear” !
Her mother thought it was going to end with this one child. However she faced the truth that it was just the beginning of the single, daring, organized, undercover effort of a young polish catholic social worker who end up saving 2500 jewish children. That’s more than a generation saved. Almost like a village. A whole community.
While I wouldn’t narrate the entire plot here however i’ll have to highlight the striking resemblance of the institutionalized crime and a person’s daring response to it which is imperative for present time. Irena could’ve very well gone with the majority of her times, she could’ve left with offering her sympathies or she could’ve felt satisfied with what she was able to do under given circumstances that the Poles themselves were next target to jews, or else she could’ve funded the existing organizations or she could’ve reasoned that it’s impossible to try and change things. But as Blaise says “Love has reasons which reason cannot understand” and which N.T Wright puts more clearly “Logic cannot comprehend love, so much the worse for logic”, she proves logic is incompetent. She felt what ‘she’ as a person did was insufficient.
Logic is inadequate in matters of love which does daring things as giving one’s life, which does crazy things like risking torture or even death on a Cross. Logic is inadequate to explain why one frequents abortion clinic in a hope to be an instrument in saving lives, Logic is inadequate to explain why ‘Miss. N’ approaches one woman after another irrespective of being turned down, mocked and scoffed, Logic is inadequate to explain why ‘Mrs. M’ would finish up the chores, send the children to school, rush to the clinic to try and reach out to women entering the abortion clinic, Logic is inadequate to explain why a Professor of clinical psychology from Columbia University would give up everything to answer God’s call to head the congregation that vows to defend the Sanctity of human life and serve pregnant women who are victims themselves as much as the child inside them.
If one could explain the serious role of people at sidewalk in front of abortion clinics, then this is it. This movie sums up the role of a Sidewalk Counselor who has to fight against the invisible and the visible, who has to fight against the popular culture, against the majority, against the political power, against curse, ridicule and middle fingers, against one’s own discouragement, discomfort, weakness and limitations in order to save lives. The world needs daring women like Irena and soldiers like Stefania, to fight until what may come, for the sanctity of Life.
Will there be recognition? Will there be appreciation? Let me tell you this : A warrior is chosen to fight, his/her honor is in ‘the call’ itself. Nothing is required much more than this. It’s the same with the Sidewalk Counselor. We are called to fight. The ‘call’ to fight is an honor by itself. “Life, especially Human Life belongs to God, whoever attacks Human Life attacks God’s own self” – Pope St. John Paul II and on this account, everyone at the sidewalk, working and praying to protect and defend can be rightfully called as warriors of God. We fight for God himself, whose image and likeness is imprinted in every human person. We fight for God himself whose spark is borne by every vulnerable unborn child and mother, we fight for the Almighty who in his abundance shares the gift of life with us but whose gifts are thrown away and dishonored. We are soldiers, God’s own warriors!
Irena Sendler’s work was recognized after 60 years. Pope St.John Paul II sent her a letter appreciating her wartime selfless efforts. The Polish Government awarded her with “The Order of White Eagles” the highest civilian award, the Yad Vashem recognized her as one of the righteous among the nations and a tree was planted in her honor in the Avenue of the Righteous since she was not allowed to enter Jerusalem by her own polish government. However her response to the recognition gives us a direct answer : “Heroes do extraordinary things, what I did was not an extraordinary thing. It was normal. Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer living, is the justification of my existence on this earth, and not a title to glory.”
For those interested, here’s the link below to the movie The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler also the documentary about her: Life in a Jar can be found here .