The Jewish ghetto was a functioning community and to many Jews seemed the safest available place for themselves and their children. In addition, survival on the outside was plausible only for people with access to financial resources. This calculation lost its validity in July 1942, when the Germans proceeded with the liquidation of the ghetto in Warsaw, to be followed by the extermination of its residents.
During the Great Action, Irena Sendler kept entering or trying to enter the ghetto. She made desperate attempts to save her friends.
On 18 October 1943, Irena Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo. As they ransacked her house, she tossed the lists of children to her friend Janina Grabowska, who hid the list in her loose clothing. Should the Gestapo access this information, all children would be compromised, but Grabowska was never searched.
The Gestapo took Irena Sendler to the headquarters and beat her brutally. Despite this, she refused to betray any of her comrades or the children they rescued. She was placed in the Pawiak prison, where she was subjected to further interrogations and beatings, and from there on 13 November taken to another location, to be executed by firing squad.
Her life was saved, however, because the German guards escorting her were bribed, and she was released on the way to the execution. She was freed due to the efforts of Maria Palester, a fellow Welfare Department activist, who obtained the necessary funds from Żegota chief Julian Grobelny; she used her contacts and a teenage daughter to transfer the bribe money.
Irena Sendler was the inspiration and the prime mover for the whole network that saved Jewish children. She and her co-workers buried lists of the hidden children in jars in order to keep track of their original and new identities. The aim was to return the children to their original families, if still alive after the war.
To accomplish the transfers and placement of children, she worked closely with other volunteers. The children were often given Christian names and taught Christian prayers in case they were tested. She wanted to preserve the children’s Jewish identities, so she kept careful documentation listing their Christian names, given names, and current locations.
Irena Sendler and her associates could take a small number of children, and a certain number could be accepted and supported by Christian institutions, but a larger-scale action was prevented by the lack of funds. In accordance with their mission, she wanted to help the neediest children (such as orphans) first.
Every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory.