Possumhaw: A brave Christmas story

December 17, 2012 10:20:32 AM

Shannon Bardwell - [email protected]


Once at MUW I shared my fear with Professor David Smith that I was not brave. Looking up from his desk with horn-rimmed glasses on the tip of his nose and disheveled graying hair on his head he said, "Bravery is not bravado. It's being afraid and doing it anyway."  


I wonder that about Irena Sendler, I wonder if she knew that she was brave.  


Winters in the Prairie mean curling up by the fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate and a good read. Recently I read a story about Irena Sendler.  


It's an unusual Christmas story much like the one we celebrate this season about a baby boy born to a Jewish couple while they were overnighting in the town of Bethlehem of Judea.  


The couple, Joseph and Mary, had been uprooted from their home by a harsh government and sent to another town to be counted. When the baby was less than 2 years old, Mary and Joseph had to flee taking the child to a foreign country to escape harm.  


Mary and Joseph left everything and everyone they knew. Joseph and Mary were brave but I wonder if they knew they were brave. By escaping they saved the baby boy and themselves but many Jewish babies were not saved. It's a sad part of the Christmas story.  


Irena Sendler's story is similar to Joseph and Mary's story.  


Irena lived in Warsaw, Poland, in 1939 during WWII. The German occupied government decided to remove the Jewish families from their homes and put them in camps and later many, many of the people were exterminated.  


But Irena was brave. She got a job as a plumbing/sewer specialist in the Warsaw Ghetto where the Jewish families were moved. Every day when she went to work she carried a toolbox or a burlap sack and every day she put Jewish babies inside the tool box and carried them where they could be taken to a safe place. Older children were put in the burlap sack.  


Irena got a dog and trained the dog to bark at the soldiers when she went in and out of the ghetto.  


The soldiers not wanting to deal with the barking dog did not open the back of her truck; they did not hear the sounds of the babies.  


When Irena was discovered she was beaten severely and barely escaped death but not before she had saved the lives of 2,500 children. She kept the names of all the children in a glass jar she buried in her backyard in hopes of one day reuniting the children with their families.  


Irena was a nominee for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. She died in 2008 at the age of 98 in Warsaw.  


When we remember the Christmas story, it wouldn't hurt to remember all the people who are brave. It wouldn't hurt to remember Irena Sendler.

Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.