Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto

Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto

Susan Goldman Rubin
Illustrator:  Bill Farnsworth 
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Holiday House, 2011   ISBN: 978-0823422517

On September 1st, 1939, German forces attacked Poland and World War II began. Irena Sendler and her mother were living in Warsaw at the time, and Irena, who was a Catholic social worker, did her best to help the refugees whose homes had been destroyed during the bombing. Just a few weeks after the conflict began, Poland surrendered, and German troops marched into Warsaw. Irena knew that the Jews would be targeted by the invaders, and she and her friends gave Jews false documents that said that they were Polish citizens. She had to stand by as the Germans forced thousands of Jews to leave their homes to live in the overcrowded ghetto. She was unable to do anything as they built a wall around the ghetto to keep the Jews in and to keep anyone who wanted to help them out.

Irena and her friends managed to get jobs working for the department that took care of disease control, and thus were able to enter the ghetto wearing “starched white uniforms and white caps.” She was appalled to see how the Jews in the ghetto were living. Disease was rampant, and Jews of all ages were dying of illness and starvation. Then the Germans began to send trainloads of Jews to Treblinka, a death camp. Irena joined an underground organization whose members were dedicated to helping the Jews. Posing as a nurse, Irena entered the ghetto and set about finding ways to get the Jewish children to safety. Children were smuggled out through entrances in the wall, in the sewers, in ambulances, in fire trucks, and even in body bags and coffins. Babies left the ghetto in potato sacks, suitcases, and toolboxes.

Getting the children out of the ghetto was dangerous, but finding a place to hide them and a way to get them to safety was also difficult and fraught with danger. Irena kept working to help the Jews, and then one day the Gestapo turned up at her door.

In this book, Susan Goldman Rubin tells the remarkable story of one of the many people who risked everything to help the Jews during World War II. Irena’s courage and sacrifice serves as a powerful reminder that we should not stand by while others are suffering. Instead, we need to step up and do what we can to help.

Drawing on Irena’s accounts, the stories of the children she rescued, and many other sources, the author gives readers a true story that is inspiring and memorable.