Would you be brave enough to hide a baby in a toolbox to sneak the infant past Nazi guards? Polish social worker Irena Sendler did just that. She helped to rescue more than 2,500 Jewish children after the Nazis invaded Warsaw in 1939. Herded into crowded ghettos, the Jews suffered from disease and starvation. Irena asked parents if she could take their young children to a place of safety. She hid babies and toddlers in toolboxes, potato sacks, suitcases, and coffins. Irena then safely delivered the children to Catholic convents and to Christian families, who promised to care for them during the war.
Irena recorded each child’s name and parental information on bits of paper. She placed these in glass bottles and jars, which she buried in a neighbor’s yard. Irena hoped one day to be able to reunite the parents with their children. Although arrested and tortured by the Nazis, Irena bravely refused to name her accomplices. Eventually, she was released. She retrieved the jars after the war. Sadly, most of the parents had died in concentration camps. In 1965, Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial organization, named Sendler as Righteous Among the Nations for her work saving Jewish children. Sendler died on May 12, 2008, in Warsaw, Poland, at the age of 98.
I’ve always admired Irena. She’s a good example of a Christian who did just as Jesus instructed all of his followers to do: love thy neighbor. Sometimes it takes courage, time, and effort to love one’s neighbor. When Jesus shared the parable of the good Samaritan, he gave an example of someone who loved in just this way. That’s why I appreciate my friends Ginger and Joni, who traveled to Thailand to help free young women and girls from the bondage of forced prostitution. And Kim who gives up one night a week to help in a soup kitchen, preparing and serving meals to the homeless. And Denise who took me with her to the Salvation Army to wrap dozens of canisters of Tinker Toys for men and women in nearby prisons to give to their children for Christmas.
I also admire Calvin Graham of Crockett, Texas, who served as a gunner on board the USS SOUTH DAKOTA during World War II. He and his fellow seamen faced the Japanese in the brutal sea battle of Guadalcanal. During that encounter, Calvin was hit in the jaw by flying shrapnel and lost his front teeth. Dazed and bleeding, he scrambled to his feet to help other injured seamen, removing belts from dead sailors to make tourniquets for the wounded. Courage, time, and effort. He had that kind of love for his buddies.
Calvin received a Bronze Star for valor in combat and a Purple Heart for his injuries. But the young gunner didn’t bask in glory for long. His mother recognized her son’s face in a war newsreel and notified the navy of his true age. She demanded that he be sent home. For you see, at the time of the battle, Calvin was only thirteen years old. He’d lied about his age to fight for his country. Calvin eventually was discharged, having earned the distinction as the youngest World War II veteran in US history.
So let us make the commitment to love courageously and to teach our children to do the same. It won’t always be easy. And as we try, let us remember the words of C.S. Lewis who once said, “Don’t shine so that others can see you. Shine so that through you, others can see Him.”
Shirley Raye Redmond is an award-winning writer and former newspaper columnist. Her book Patriots in Petticoats: Heroines of the American Revolution was named one of the best children’s books of 2004 by the Bank Street College of Education in New York. She is also the author of Courageous World Changers and Brave Heroes, Bold Defenders, part-time instructor for the Institute of Children’s Literature, a sought-after workshop speaker, and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
To celebrate to launch of the new online home for Shirley’s books about the godly men and women whose bravery changed the world, we are giving away a set of her books. Find The Christian Mommy on Facebook and enter to win.