A 97-year-old woman credited with saving 2,500 Jewish children during the Holocaust was honored by parliament Wednesday at a ceremony during which Poland's president said she deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.
Irena Sendler, who lives in a nursing home in Warsaw, was too frail to attend the special session in which members of the Senate unanimously approved a resolution honoring her and the Polish underground Council for Assisting Jews.
The group's members, mostly Roman Catholics, risked their own lives to save Jews from the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Poland.
Sendler was cited for organizing the "rescue of the most defenseless victims of the Nazi ideology — the Jewish children."
President Lech Kacyzinski said in an address to senators that Sendler is a "great hero who can be justly named for the Nobel Peace Prize."
"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," Sendler said in a letter read by Elzbieta Ficowska, who was saved by Sendler as a baby. "Over a half-century has passed since the hell of the Holocaust, but its specter still hangs over the world and doesn't allow us to forget the tragedy."
Sendler led about 20 helpers who smuggled Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto to safety between 1940 and 1943, placing them in Polish families, convents or orphanages.
She wrote the children's names on slips of paper and buried them in jars in a neighbor's yard as a record that could help locate their parents after the war. The Nazis arrested her in 1943, but she refused — despite repeated torture — to reveal their names.
Anyone caught helping Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland risked being summarily shot, along with family members.
"I think she's a great lady, very courageous, and I think she's a model for the whole international community," Israeli Ambassador David Peleg said after the ceremony. "I think that her courage is a very special one."
In 1965, Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial awarded Sendler one of its first medals given to people who saved Jews, the so-called "Righteous Among the Nations."
She was given the honor in 1983, after Poland's Communist authorities finally agreed to allow her to travel abroad.