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She died last week, in her modest Warsaw apartment, aged 98. For once, the term "heroine" is no exaggeration, though such plaudits did not sit easily with her. I continue to have pangs of conscience that I did so little." Irena always ascribed her desire to do good to the influence of her parents, in particular her father, a Polish physician in a small town near Warsaw. He died during a typhus epidemic when Irena was seven.
She said: "I was brought up to believe that a person must be rescued when drowning, regardless of religion and nationality. When the Germans invaded Poland in September 1939, Irena was working as a senior administrator in Warsaw's social welfare department.
A mechanic put her in a tool box, placed it among a pile of bricks in the back of his lorry and took her out.
The situation worsened dramatically in the autumn of 1940 when the German authorities created the Warsaw Ghetto. She felt she had to help, so she joined Zegota, an underground organisation created by the Polish government-in-exile to help the nation's Jews.
Some 440,000 Jews, more than a third of the city's population, were herded into a 16-block neighbourhood, around which a wall was built. In July 1942, the Nazis began Operation Reinhard, which saw 250,000 Jews removed from the ghetto to Treblinka. In late 1942, she was made head of its children's section. In conditions of extreme danger, she would save as many ghetto children from near-certain death as she could.
Elzbieta never saw her mother again; the only evidence that she had ever been in the ghetto was a silver spoon with her name and birthdate engraved on it, which her mother had given to Irena.
Still alive today, Elzbieta now says she had three mothers - her biological one, the Polish woman who took her in after she escaped from the ghetto ...
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It was to be both an open prison and by Richard Pendlebury a convenient means of isolating and holding the Jews before they were sent to their deaths at Treblinka extermination camp. Her first problem had been how to reach the ghetto - movement both in and out was heavily restricted by the Germans.