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Irena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto

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This book is an account of Irena Sendler—the “female Oskar Schindler”—who took staggering risks to save 2,500 children from death and deportation in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.

In 1942, one young social worker, Irena Sendler, was granted access to the Warsaw ghetto as a public health specialist. While there, she reached out to the trapped Jewish families, going from door to door and asking the parents to trust her with their young children. She started smuggling them out of the walled district, convincing her friends and neighbors to hide them. Driven to extreme measures and with the help of a network of local tradesmen, ghetto residents, and her star-crossed lover in the Jewish resistance, Irena ultimately smuggled thousands of children past the Nazis. She made dangerous trips through the city’s sewers, hid children in coffins, snuck them under overcoats at checkpoints, and slipped them through secret passages in abandoned buildings.

But Irena did something even more astonishing at immense personal risk: she kept secret lists buried in bottles under an old apple tree in a friend’s back garden. On them were the names and true identities of those Jewish children, recorded with the hope that their relatives could find them after the war. She could not have known that more than ninety percent of their families would perish.

317 pages, Hardcover

First published September 27, 2016

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About the author

Tilar J. Mazzeo

21 books253 followers
Tilar J. Mazzeo is a cultural historian, biographer, and passionate student of wine and food culture. She divides her time among the California wine country, New York City, and Maine, where she is a professor of English at Colby College.

(from the author's website)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,184 reviews
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews17 followers
May 27, 2017
Thank You Lisa Vegan!!! Unlike Lisa, I had 'not' heard of Irena Sendler. .....
But..... like Lisa, I've read I've read MANY Holocaust books - fiction and non fiction.

Lisa Vegan's review express exactly how I feel....READ HER REVIEW!!!!

"Irena's Children", is sooooo ENGAGING!!!!!! It's non- fiction. The best 'feeling' comparison I can give about this NON-FICTION....that reads like FICTION .....( you wish it were fiction) ....is "Unbroken", by Laura Hillenbrand.
For those who remember reading, 'Unbroken'..... do you remember how hard it was to put that book down? It was sooooo completely readable!! It 'felt' like a story. A STORY that couldn't possibly be true: but it was!!!
This is that type of reading experience for me.

I don't think any other book I've read about the Holocaust has ever taught me more about the children,.... and what the non-Jewish people -Catholics especially - went through risking their lives.

Even 'after' the war -- and just before the end of it - the danger never ceased.
By the time I finish the last page I was not only in tears.... but I got for the first time in a new way why history is often re-written. FOR YEARS!!!!!

There are already many wonderful reviews -- read them.......
And what's interesting to me, is 'not' that this book won "The New York Best Book of 2016"...IT DESERVES IT!!!!
......but 'why' this story could not have been told years earlier.

FOR YEARS ....this VERY brave women ..... who was nominated the Nobel peace prize the year that Al Gore won.... SHE COULD NOT TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT SHE DID ... ABOUT WHAT TOOK PLACE....
History was re-written for many people who lived through the Holocaust...( not the truth). It can take 50 years until until people feel safe to speak the truth - if at all.

This is ......"truly a heroic tale of survival, resilience, and redemption"!!!!
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,286 reviews2,205 followers
November 6, 2016
" This is history, through a glass darkly, with all the attendant perils of the great darkness that was the Holocaust in Poland both during the Second World War and in the decades of communist rule that followed. I have used in all cases my best judgement as a historian and scholar and then proceeded to get on with telling the story of an astonishing group of men and women who saved from the darkness thousands of children." (Tilar J. Mazzeo in the Afterword of this book.)

I would guess that there are a lot of people like myself know who did not know of Irena Sendler. Until I read a review on Goodreads I had not heard of her or any of the brave, good people who worked with her, so many names to mention here. I was happy to see the list of people in Irena's network at the end of the book to remind me. I am grateful to Mazzeo for telling this story of these people who saved so many children from death, from the camps. Irena Sendler was a social worker in Warsaw who started her mission by at first fixing documents so the children would receive assistance, by smuggling food and medicine to the ghetto and moving to the most dangerous of acts - smuggling and hiding the children.

The author has done extensive research and displays a passionate commitment to telling this story that is evident on every page . She gives us a sense of what Irena was like as a person, what these Jewish families were going through, the gruesome descriptions of the conditions of the ghetto, the danger that Irena and those who were involved in the resistance faced, the courage and trust of these families who allowed strangers to take their children to safety. And of course she tells us about the children and their fears in leaving their mothers and fathers. It was difficult to read at times, but as I say whenever I read a book about the Holocaust whether it is fiction or non fiction as this is : it's so necessary to be told and read so we don't forget .

Irena tried to document by code the identities of the children and where they were hidden in hopes of reuniting them with their parents. The heartbreaking truth of the matter is that most of their families did not survive. "By the end of the war, ninety percent of Poland's Jews would perish - some three million people - but not Irena's children." I am heartened that some recognition has been given to her. She was awarded the highest honor given by the Holocaust memorial organization in Israel when she was named one of the "Righteous Among Nations", and thanks to Mazzeo Irena's story is elevated to further awareness to those of us fortunate enough to read it.

I received this ARC from Gallery, Threshold Books through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Candi.
614 reviews4,639 followers
April 24, 2017
"Great, heroic acts sometimes come from small beginnings…"

The story of Irena Sendler is one that some readers may be familiar with and many more may not. I hope that this incredible woman’s name will be proclaimed the world over as a true humanitarian, a courageous woman, and an admirable leader. I had first heard her name two years ago, when my son began an assigned reading for school titled Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project by Jack Mayer. He insisted that I would love the book and suggested that I get a copy to read for myself. I’m so glad he did – he knows me so well. Without his prompting, I may have remained in the dark about Irena’s story. At least until now, when I have had the honor of reading this well-researched, in-depth look at her life and her commitment to saving the lives of numerous Jewish children who would have doubtless perished during the Holocaust. Author Tilar J. Mazzeo presents a compelling piece of non-fiction in this work titled Irena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto.

As Mazzeo states, this book is not simply Irena’s story, it is also about the network of brave citizens that assisted her tremendous effort; furthermore, it is the story of the Polish people, and in particular the residents of Warsaw, during the German occupation of World War II. Mazzeo tells us that fifteen percent of Poland’s population, or approximately 6 million people, were killed as a result of the war – including ninety percent of Poland’s Jewish population. These statistics are simply heartbreaking and downright unthinkable. With the help of the political underground, the Polish welfare offices, and the Jewish community, Irena and her band of heroes and heroines were able to save the lives of nearly 2,500 Jewish children by daring acts of rescue. Many of these were smuggled out of the walled ghetto and placed in Polish homes, convents, and orphanages with the use of forged identity papers. Irena herself was able to come in and out of the ghetto for some time due to her social worker status as well as with the use of an epidemic control pass. As a mother it is hard to imagine entrusting the life of your child with another – to allow your baby or toddler or other cherished son or daughter to be taken from you, with great risk, in order to have a chance at survival in a world that is both treacherous and essentially foreign to your own culture and beliefs. But that is exactly the choice many of these Jewish mothers and fathers were forced to make. It’s just astonishing, really. Irena went through great efforts to make a list of those children rescued, with the hope that one day they could be reunited with their families. Of course, all are familiar enough with the disheartening survival rates of those that were transported to places like Treblinka to know that this dream of Irena’s could never be realized. Nevertheless, those that were saved had a chance at life thanks to people like Irena who took extraordinary risks every day, while the shadow of Pawiak prison loomed large and the prospect of execution was a constant threat.

With the end of the Cold War, many of these true-life dramas like Irena’s were uncovered, and I hope that they continue to get the recognition they deserve. In 1965, the name of Irena Sendler was rightfully added to the list of those “Righteous Among Nations”, the highest honor awarded by the Holocaust memorial organization in Israel. With the exposure of more and more ordinary citizen turned ‘hero’ stories, it should be an inspiration to everyone that even one person can begin to make a difference in the lives of others.

"She was at once a heroine—although she disdained that word, too—and a flawed and average person. But she was also someone gifted with a sense of purpose and righteousness so powerful that she was able, by her example, to persuade others around her to be better than they otherwise might have been, and to do something together amazingly decent and courageous."
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,761 reviews1,218 followers
January 4, 2017
Before reading this book, I had heard of Irena Sendler. I’d read two children’s picture books about her: Irena's Jars of Secrets and Irena Sendler and the Children of the Warsaw Ghetto. Because they were written for children, they were sanitized and did not reveal the worst of the atrocities or many of the details of Irena’s life and the lives of her collaborators or the lives of the victims. I did not get even close to a full picture, though I’m glad there are books for children about this heroine. They were fine introductions and inspired me to learn more.

I’ve read hundreds of Holocaust books, non-fiction and fiction. This one is non-fiction and it’s one of the very best books of its kind that I’ve read. I had no qualms about giving it 5 stars. It’s a splendid book, well written and brilliantly organized and expertly constructed. It’s incredibly dense with information, but always readable and engaging. I found it hard to put down, though at times it was extremely painful to read.

I cannot stress enough how much I learned from this book. I got a better feel for the scope of the conditions inside the Warsaw Ghetto, Warsaw and Poland during WWII than I have from reading most other books about it, perhaps more than from any other book. I learned so much about Irena and her background that it made sense why she was as she was and why she did what she did. Many people I’d known about from reading other books make appearances and it was interesting to see how they were connected to each other, including to Irena.

The book is well researched, with a fine explanation from the author about what few liberties she took (I found her and the book’s contents trustworthy!) and how she conducted her research. There are extensive notes and an impressive bibliography. I appreciated what photos were included and wish that there had been even more of them.

It was a good time for me to read this book. Despite its serious and sometimes heartbreaking subject matter, I was fine with reading it over the holidays. I took courage from what these people went through. They and their situations made what trepidation I feel for what we’re facing later this month doable. I got courage from their willingness to do the right thing. This book could have been titled Dozens (maybe Hundreds) of People’s Children. So many participated in trying to save lives and so many were incredibly brave. I hope I would have the courage to do what's right, as might be required, over these next few years! Irena’s bravery and the bravery of those she worked with and the bravery of many other Poles, non-Jewish and Jewish, is so inspiring. They were remarkable people, and ordinary people. I could hope to be only a fraction as brave. There were so many heroes. Unfortunately, there were obviously a huge number of victims, but also so many that were saved, and that is inspiring.

While it turned out that none of them were actually safe, they could certainly have protected themselves better than they did by not trying to help. I was particularly touched by those who had children of their own and risked so much to help other people’s children; their actions were life threatening for them and for their entire families.

I did learn a lot about Warsaw throughout WWII and I’d never realized quite how in danger the Catholic and other non-Jewish Polish people were in, especially toward the end of the war.

How could so many people be so brave (this book must be read to see just how almost superhuman bravery was exhibited time after time!) and how could so many people have acted so evilly? I was left more uplifted than in despair.

One example of what fine storytelling this book has is one of the chapter titles led me to assume one thing, as does the way this book begins (with Irena’s arrest by the Gestapo) and because of that I’d assumed something, until I looked at the photos section in the middle of the book. But why that was done makes perfect sense. The reader follows Irena over time (through her triumphs and tragedies and challenges – with the full gamut of thoughts and emotions and experiences) and the presentation was not done gratuitously but in a way that I as a reader got a real sense of how it was for Irena and all the others, adults and children, non-Jews and Jews, people of all persuasions in this time and place.

I honestly can’t imagine going through what Irena and many of her contemporaries did, and obviously what the Polish Jews had to endure in the ghetto and being sent to Treblinka or otherwise murdered, well I cannot imagine coping. Yes, there is much real life tragedy in this account, but the truly amazing efforts of so many who did what they could to save lives, of adults as well as a large number of children, left me feeling in awe.

There is horrific content and there is a lot of suspense but it also has sweet and lovely and joyful parts.

This is a timely book, telling a story that needed telling, and an excellent effort, and I highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,737 reviews1,469 followers
January 11, 2017
This book moved me, as most holocaust books do. Honestly, I think that is part of what attracts people to them. We tell ourselves we are leaning history, and we are, but it is the emotional involvement that is the attraction.

This book is not just about Irena Sendler but also about the huge number of compatriots that worked alongside her. Although we do meet many individuals a number stand out, so one does not get lost. One feels connection to many. Both the author and Irena emphasize over and over that even if numerous are named they make up only a small fraction of the many who leant their hand in the saving of “Irena’s children” and in the Polish resistance movement. The number of people involved is of importance to Irena herself. Without the support of others none of what she achieved would have been possible. I will counter that without her the very same is true. Her insistence of the ordinariness of her actions becomes almost a bit puzzling to me, yet it shows her to be the humble being she was and this is appealing. Knowing the importance of what she achieved, saving the lives of around 2.500 children, she should be willing to acknowledge the status it should have. While we do not get into Irena's head, what she is recorded to have said, her actions and choices do speak volumes.

Another central point of this book is Irena's love for Adam. This love is mutual and it is strong and their recognition of their love for each other is in itself a disregard of the pain they cause to others; both are married to another. The love attraction is not minutely delved into, but again described through actions. Never is the book introspective. At the book's end we are told in a mere few sentences of Irena’s . Explanations are not given. Neither is there an explanation of why her religious convictions strengthened at life's end. Let me repeat, the book is not an introspective analysis of Irena Sendler. It is a book about what she did and the choices she made. It is moving because any telling of the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto will be upsetting. The horrors are told both in numbers and in hard to stomach descriptions. Any person reading of the razing of both the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw and then all of Warsaw has to be upset. It must also be stated that the author tells the events in a tone that is engaging, eloquent and expertly drawn.

I do think the author should have mentioned with just a line or two why Russia, an Allied power in 1944, stood by and watched Germany obliterate Warsaw. The resistance in Poland was in the hands of the exile Polish government. This fact is mentioned, but not that this and the manifest age-old distrust between the Russian and Polish peoples explain why.

What stands out for me is that while some behave monstrously at the same time there are others that stand tall, are remarkable and enable one to have hope in humanity. There is in the middle of the book a “complete nobody”, a streetcar driver, who magnificently shows this. It is the “ordinary nobodies”, that stranger we have never met that save humanity, and I think it is exactly this that Irena was saying by her insistence in playing down her own importance and in emphasizing her own ordinariness.

The audiobook is exceptionally well narrated by Amanda Carlin. Clearly spoken, with subdued emotion that feels all the stronger for its lack of over-dramatization. The narration is superb.

There you have it, the good and the bad, what I liked about the book and what I think could have been delved into more thoroughly. I have a penchant for introspective books, but this book will surely pull you in.


Historical events occurring in Poland during the Second World War are mentioned. In this way the book overlaps with these non-fiction books, all of which are definitely worth reading:

*Mosaic: A Chronicle of Five Generations (5 stars)
*The Bielski Brothers: The True Story of Three Men Who Defied the Nazis, Built a Village in the Forest, and Saved 1,200 Jews (4 stars)
*The Zookeeper's Wife (4 stars)
*Clara's War (4 stars)
*The Girl in the Green Sweater: A Life in Holocaust's Shadow (3 stars)
*The Polski Affair (3 stars)

Profile Image for Cheryl.
968 reviews101 followers
August 20, 2016
Author and university professor Tilar Mazzeo has written an unforgettable story of courage, sacrifice, selflessness, honor and survival amidst the horrors and brutality of the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, Poland.

Irena Sendler had graduated from university with a Master’s degree and had just begun a job with Warsaw’s municipal welfare office when the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. She, along with many of her former classmates, became active in the resistance movement. Although she was not Jewish, Irena had been raised in a small town outside of Warsaw with a large Jewish population. She could speak Yiddish and had quite a few close friends who were Jewish.

As the Nazis began to implement their plan of complete annihilation of Poland’s Jews, Irena focused her attention on saving as many innocent Jewish children as she could. Together with her extensive network of friends and colleagues, she was able to save over 2,500 Jewish children.

In Poland, Irena is seen as a heroine, and is often referred to as “the female Oscar Schindler”. But her story is little known to people in the West. In 1965, based on the testimony of survivors, Israel’s Yad Vashem added Irena Sendler’s name to the list of those who are deemed “Righteous Among the Nations” and an olive tree was planted in her honor on the Mount of Remembrance. Despite receiving this honor, Irena humbly insisted that she only was the coordinator of her network and that she did not do it alone.

Tiller Mazzeo’s exhaustive research brings to life one of the darkest periods in history. The sense of urgency and fear are palpable as the Nazi regime tightens it’s grip on the city of Warsaw. The true story of Irena Sendler reads like a novel and is hard to put down. Her story is a reminder of how, together, people can stand up to evil and make a difference in the world.

Thank you to Net Galley and Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, for giving me the opportunity to read the advance copy of this outstanding book which will be published in September, 2016.
Profile Image for Tara.
Author 22 books543 followers
January 6, 2019
One of the most absorbing nonfiction books I've ever read. This almost impossible story of a woman who saved about 2,500 Jewish children in Poland during WW II will make you feel guilty that you are not doing more for others. Despite threats to her family, her friends, her own life, Irena Sendler triumphs and stays one step ahead of the Gestapo in Warsaw. She even survives capture and torture, never giving away any of the valuable information she had. Sendler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (lost to Al Gore), and while I'm a Gore fan, this book will make you wish she had won. Astounding and well researched. A must if you need a pick me up about what is good about being human during this 2016 election.

Update 1/6/18: Just watched "The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler," a Hallmark movie but much better than I would expect from Hallmark. Starring Anna Paquin. Brings Mazzeo's story to life, even though it's based on another biography.
Profile Image for Jim.
562 reviews85 followers
July 29, 2017
This is the story of Irena Sendler and the extraordinary things she did in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. I am sad to say that I am one of those who had never heard of her prior to reading this book. I have read many books about World War II, both fiction and non-fiction, and it amazes me how people endured and coped in the midst of a living hell.

Irena Sendler was a social worker who was granted access to the walled ghetto section of Warsaw. There she saw first hand the fate that awaited Jewish families. She reached out to these families to entrust their children to her so that they might live. It is hard to imagine what life must have been like where a parent would turn over a child to someone else in order to save him or her. And there were no guarantees of safety. Smuggling anyone out of the ghetto came at great risk. If caught the Nazi's did not hesitate to kill. The Nazi's would kill the child and anyone assisting. If you assisted a Jew the Nazi's would also kill your family ... while you watched ... and then kill you. Irena Sendler never hesitated though when it came to helping others.

This is the story of Irena Sendler but as she often told people and as the author makes clear throughout the story there was a vast network of people who worked with Irena to save innocent children from the Holocaust. By many accounts some 2,500 children were saved thanks to Irena and her friends. They made dangerous trips through the city's sewers, hid children in coffins, hid them under overcoats. They were brave and selfless and it is important that their story be told and never forgotten. Each and everyone is a hero and an inspiration.

Not only did Irena Sendler help save the lives of these children she did something even more extraordinary and at great personal risk. She kept lists with the names and true identities of those Jewish children with the hope that their relatives could find them after the war. Even after being arrested, imprisoned, and tortured Irena Sendler never stopped her work.

In 1965 the Holocaust memorial organization in Israel awarded Irena Sendler it's highest honor. They added her name to the list of those who are “Righteous Among Nations” and planted an olive tree in her honor on the Mount of Remembrance. The Soviets refused to authorize a passport so that Irena could travel to Jerusalem to accept the award. In 2003 some of the children she helped save wrote a joint letter nominating Irena Sendler for the Nobel Peace Prize. They nominated her again in 2007. Irena dismissed any talk of awards or honors. Irena Sendler died peacefully in 2008 at the age of 98 surrounded by several of "her" children.

Thanks to Goodreads and Gallery Books for this book.
Profile Image for Karen R.
839 reviews496 followers
October 5, 2016
I thank the author for her meticulous research and the extensive hours she must have put in to bring Irena Sendler’s incredible story to light. Irena was a passionate and courageous woman who risked her life repeatedly, saving thousands of children by smuggling them out of their Warsaw ghetto right under the noses of the Nazis. This novel is a difficult read because of the atrocities yet amidst the tragedies there is Irena and brave souls who step up to help. A powerful WWII story of bravery and heroism that reminded me what made the greatest generation so great, especially in these darkest days of the Holocaust.
Profile Image for Jean.
1,710 reviews742 followers
October 20, 2016
I became interested in learning more about the Warsaw Ghetto after reading Leon Uris’s book “Milo 18”. Mazzeo’s book is non-fiction and is fascinating.

This is a story of World War II, the Warsaw ghetto and the Holocaust. Mazzeo tells the story of the life of Irena Sendlerowa (Sender). The author covers her story from childhood to death but most of the story covers the war years.

In 1939 Irena Sender is a social worker in Warsaw. As the Germans take control they deprive the Polish Jews of everything and then confine 400,000 of them to one area of Warsaw. The Jews are slowly being sent to Treblinka and Auschwitz. Irena, as a social worker, has a pass that allows her to go most anywhere including in and out of the ghetto. She begins smuggling out children with the help of her fellow social workers, medical personnel and the resistance. Many where placed in homes of the Catholic Poles and raised as their own children. She kept a list of the placements in hopes of reuniting families at the end of the war, not realizing most families would perish in the camps. Irena is captured and tortured but never gives away her secrets.

The book is well written and impeccably researched. The author combed through archives and interviews survivors. The story was lost during the Soviet occupation of Poland after the German’s withdrew near the end of WWII. This occupation by the Soviets only created more difficulties in researching the story. Mazzeo tells a magnificent story of courage, resilience and heroism. If you are interested in WWII, you will learn more from this story. I was most impressed by this magnificent story.

Amanda Carlin does a good job narrating the story. Carlin is a stage, film and television actress. She also narrates audiobooks.
Profile Image for Lewis Weinstein.
Author 9 books496 followers
December 8, 2018
A well written combination of wrenching emotional detail set into clear historical context. What Irena Sendler and those she worked with accomplished in the Warsaw Ghetto was beyond remarkable. The risks they took and the price many of them paid are stunning. The contrast between this human goodness and the utter depravity of the Nazis and those who helped them jumps off every page.

What kind of people murder children? The answer is people who are unable to face up to their own failures (such as losing the first war) and who are willing to blame others (Jews) rather than accept their own responsibilities. Hitler and the Nazis used the substantial human shortcomings of the German people to accomplish their own goals for power and wealth. The Catholic and Lutheran churches at the highest levels remained silent, although there were many priests and others who opposed the Nazis in remarkable ways. The Allies never made any effort to close down the death camps, even as they knew that millions of Jews, including Jewish children, were being taken on freight cars to be gassed and burned in ovens .

There are so few heroes, but Irene Sendler is one of them, and we can thank Tilar Mazzeo for telling us her story.
Profile Image for Brittany McCann.
1,653 reviews406 followers
October 6, 2016
Tilar J. Mazzeo writes from an extremely educated standpoint when talking about her subject, which in this case are the thousands of Jewish children that Irena Sendler saved from the Warsaw Ghetto. This was a powerfully disturbing but also amazing look from a different historical standpoint about a truly amazing group of people in our history.

Tilar does an amazing job of setting the scene for the reader in bringing the scenes of the book to life as though they still existed before our eyes. She brings the characters to life in a way that makes the reader feel as if you really know them and can see them before your eyes and feel their anxiety and passion and even discouragement. Irena's cell of "saviors" were so amazing in the face of such treatment that describing it as "inhumane" would be an injustice to the horrors of what actually occurred. I felt sick in my heart to know that anyone could ever have to live or feel this way, and so empowered to know that one person or even a few people can truly make the difference in so many generations of lives.

The only points I had that were negative with this book were that I would have liked to have seen a city map to really be able to get a visual feel of how far the ghetto and sewer systems were from different "safe" houses, Gestapo, churches and welfare centers and showing how the sewer and supply lines ran in and out of the Warsaw Ghetto.

The other thing that really took this book down from a 5 star rating for me was that, there were some very tedious moments at times in this book. Mazzeo has done such an amazing job with her research that she has put almost too many details into the book. As a nonfiction book it is a hard thing to really judge on. If I were reading this book for reference into this event I would want that more than reading from an educational pleasure reading stand point as I did. There were some of the interwoven details that seemed to be retold in several different ways. I appreciate their importance but a few times it got a bit boring with certain "deja-vu" feelings with the paperwork and the slower speed to the progress of the book.

I highly recommend this book as it is a story that needs traction. A story of hope for all that we can accomplish when any of us may feel like we can't make a difference in the world, when we ALL have that power within just one of us. If we can band together we have even more strength in the face of anything that the universe can throw at us. This book is also a powerful lesson to the world to show how quickly things can turn from bad to worse, in the face of judgement and fear and hate, and how we must all fight against this at every turn. A stunning 4.5 stars for me.

** I received a copy of this book thanks to Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books of Gallery Books and Netgalley
316 reviews7 followers
November 16, 2016
So here's the deal. Irena's personal story and those in her network who risked their lives to save so many is remarkable. However, the book was incredibly boring - my mind kept drifting to other things and it was difficult to stay focused.

Other than being a slow read, I couldn't understand why the author kept referring to Ala or others as "Irena's friend." By page 150 it was abundantly clear that these people were her friends and colleagues. I understand that there were a lot of names and it could be tough to keep track, but I didn't need a constant reminder for the major players.

Also, I assume it was more of a tribute to the respective families and the lives that were lost, but as a reader, I wasn't interested in knowing the names of Ala's mother, father, second cousin and whoever else she lived with who had no other connection to the story other than being related to someone who was intimately involved in the movement/resistance.

I have a tendency to get really excited for WWII non-fiction and then am highly disappointed by the end result. Again, it's not that the individual stories aren't incredible - it's that the retelling is done poorly.
Profile Image for Carla.
5,936 reviews128 followers
March 5, 2017
Tilar Mazzeo went to Poland and stumbled upon this story when she saw all the lights in the forest. She researched and what she found compelled her to write Irena's story. I read a children's version of Irena Sendler's story Jars of Hope a little while ago. I had not heard of Irena or her heroic efforts to save the children before that. I was very impressed with this woman and when I saw this book I wanted to read it to find out more about this incredible woman. I actually had to put this book down a couple of times and read something lighter because the atrocities that happened in Poland, particularly Warsaw were horrific. When this young woman decides that she needs to do what she can to save the children from death, she set to the task without being deterred by the dangers to herself. The book can be dry in parts, but it is a mesmerizing story. The resistance in Poland had such strength of character and the moral right on their side.

Mazzeo does an amazing job of setting the scene for the reader, I could picture what was going on almost as it I was there, although I am glad I was not. She brings the characters to life in a way that makes the reader feel as if you really know them. You can feel what they feel from despair, pain, discouragement, fear and in some cases relief and excitement. Irena's cell of "saviors" were so important to her story. She constantly said she was not a hero, there were so many others that risked so much more than she did and many of them were mentioned in the book. I felt sick in my heart to know that anyone had to endure what these people lived through. The number of Polish people (both Jewish and non-Jewish) that perished during this time was unbelievable. The strength shown by so few to save as many as they could is empowering knowing that good will go up against evil to save even one. This is a must read for those who are interested in WWII, not for the fighting and war, but for the positive spirit shown by so many that had been counted down and out. As they were referred to in the book by the Germans, "Untermensch" or subhuman showed that they were the most human of all.
Profile Image for Booknblues.
1,120 reviews8 followers
October 9, 2016
To understate it, Poland during World War II was a particularly harrowing and horrifying which tested the mettle of all its citizens. There have been many excellent books written about this time, both fiction and nonfiction includingMila 18 and The Zookeeper's Wife, and I have discovered yet another one in Irena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto by Tilar Mazzeo.

Irena Sendler was an amazing and heroic woman, who worked as a social worker prior to World War II and continued during the war. She used her skills to organize a network of resistance workers intent on saving Jewish children from the clutches of the Nazis. Tilar Mazzeo is to be commended for her research uncovering many of the players in this network. It is inspiring to realize how many ordinary people were involved and working against the Nazis in this horrible time.

Even though this book is nonfiction, it is anything but dull. From the start, I couldn't put it down. I'd like to share the beginning of the prologue:

Warsaw, October 21, 1943

Aleja Szucha. Irena Sendler knew her destination. The door slammed shut up front, and the black prison car lurched into motion. she had been given only minutes to dress and her fair bobbed hair was bed tousled.

Janka Grabowska had run down the front path with her shoes and thrust them at her at the last moment, braving the violent caprices of the soldiers. Irena hadn't thought to lace them. She was focusing on just one thing: staying calm and keeping her face blank, placid. No sad faces. That was the wisdom Jewish mothers gave to their children when they left them for the last time in the care of strangers. Irena wasn't Jewish, but it was still true that sad faces were dangerous.

The one thing that makes this difficult reading is the sheer number of people which Mazzeo has included. However she has provided a listing of characters in Irena's network at the end of the book to which the reader can refer to. Some of these could even have a book of their own. I know that I would love to read one about the heroic nurse of the Warsaw ghetto, Ala Golab-Grynberg.

I would recommend this book to any and all interested in this era.
Profile Image for Marquise.
1,711 reviews398 followers
November 30, 2021
An extraordinary story about an extraordinary woman who saved 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto by smuggling them out in every imaginable way she could. Some of the ways she found to save them told in this book are astonishing, such as the case of baby Bieta, and others are heartwrenching, such as the case of the orphans that were sent back into the Ghetto and ended up with Dr Korczak in Treblinka.

Although Mazzeo doesn't have the most engrossing prose out there, she did a good job in telling Irena's story, showing her as a complex woman who wasn't a saint but had a strong sense of moral courage, who was willing to take huge risks, and had a natural take-charge organisational aptitude. It also makes it clear that it wasn't an one-woman's mission but a group effort, for Irena would never have achieved her rescue feat if not for a handful of very dedicated ladies (and some gentlemen) that rallied around her for this noble endeavour.
Profile Image for Hilary .
2,234 reviews398 followers
February 7, 2017
Deeply moving, harrowing and uplifting story of how a young social worker in Poland with the help of others saved around 2500 jewish children, hiding them, re homing them, and getting them new identities.

The devastation of Warsaw was horrendous, unbelievable that anyone survived such horror. What is truly amazing is that so many people were willing to risk their lives to help others. Irena kept carefully hidden notes on whatever information she had about the children in the hope that one day they could be reunited with their parents.

Irena suffered immensely herself but along with other people mentioned in the book she was extremely strong and their actions were heroic.

Profile Image for Deborah Pickstone.
852 reviews90 followers
December 11, 2016
A story of heroism in the face of the inhumanity of the holocaust. I was much irritated by the author inferring emotions, thoughts etc that she had not access to. That aside, the story speaks for itself and I can only stand in awe of the courage some people have in living up to their own principles. No-one can say that they know for sure how s/he would react in the same shoes; I can only hope I would display some integrity.
Profile Image for Anna.
906 reviews35 followers
March 6, 2021
"She was, Irena always insisted, the least important part of a fragile but astonishing network that spread across Warsaw in the thousands that spring of 1943, just one part of a vast fraternity of strangers."
Tilar J Mazzeo, Irena's Children
Profile Image for Marilyn.
807 reviews239 followers
November 1, 2020
I recieved a complimentary copy of Irena's Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo from the publisher through Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own. I must admit that I am more than upset and embarrassed with myself that it took me so long to read Irena's story. I have read many stories about the Holocaust but this one should be read by all. Irena's fearless courage to save thousand of Jewish children was relentless even though she lived with the constant fear of discovery and death. Her heroic and carefully planned attempts to smuggle children out of the Warsaw ghetto were recognized by her peers who saw Irena as a friend, general and hero. As Irena smuggled these innocent children from the ghetto,sometimes through sewers and sometimes inside coffins, to the safety of adoptive parents who would protect their identities, Irena systematically kept detailed records of all the children's real names. Her hope was that after the war was over, the children would be able to reunite with their families. However, for the majority of those children, that never came to be. Irena never imagined that more than 90 percent of the families of the children she saved would perish by the hands of the Nazis.

Irena Sendler, is a woman to celebrate. I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for SilviaG.
322 reviews
October 8, 2018
4.5. Libro que te deja con el corazón encogido, y con una sensación de impotencia ante lo que ocurrió en Varsovia durante la Segunda Guerra mundial.
La autora, tras una investigación mediante cartas, documentos y conversaciones con algunos supervivientes de aquellos años, consigue hacer un relato histórico de como Irene Sendler y su red de colaboradores, consiguieron salvar a miles de niños judios del exteminio nazi.
Profile Image for Magdelanye.
1,649 reviews202 followers
January 24, 2020
This is a remarkable harrowing true account of a Polish woman whose strength of character propelled her to make a huge and mostly hidden difference in the resistance to the Nazi regime in Warsaw particularly.
This is not the first book Ive read on the subject, but it remains unbelievable. The horror is too vast. TJM has found the right perspective and tone to bring the reader right into the chaos of the time.
Profile Image for Erin.
49 reviews4 followers
May 23, 2018
I hate that I didn't like this book more than I did . . . the sad-but-interesting tale of Irena tugs at your heartstrings, but the author -- to me -- didn't do a very efficient job of telling stories within the larger story. I struggled to finish it.
Profile Image for Opowiemci Beata Skrzypczak.
60 reviews80 followers
March 24, 2021
Autorka stara się jak najrzetelniej sportretować waleczną bohaterkę, nie mitologizują jej jednak przesadnie. Pozwala czytelnikowi poznać jej buntownicy charakter, który nie rzadko stał w opozycji do zdrowego rozsądku, narażając innych na niebezpieczeństwo.
Profile Image for MaryCatherine.
187 reviews18 followers
August 5, 2020
Mazzeo is an historian, and this book is a well-researched and well-written book about a remarkable, but lesser-known Polish social worker who was the organizing influence and daring operative behind a remarkable effort to rescue many people from the Warsaw Ghetto during German Occupation from 1939 to 1945. Her story is well-served by the author, who brings her writing and research skills to great effect in telling the story. I especially enjoyed reading about the dedication and creativity of this social worker, from a time when social work was by default a radical commitment to changing society by helping the most needy and challenging the status quo. Not only Irena, but her many contacts and co-workers were committed to social change before the Nazis arrived in Poland. Their existing trust and connections made the kind of operation they continued under Occupation possible. This is a valuable book, and made me remember stories of women (mostly) social workers who labored in rural America, in slums and factories to change lives and challenge the US government to change laws and to finance education, health, and child labor practices in earlier times in our own country. I'm sure Mazzeo's focus on the radical progressive character of social work before the war in Poland is also meant to help us recall what has been lost to the profession with our present lack of interest and financial commitment to improving the lives of the poor in our own country.
Profile Image for Babi.
124 reviews11 followers
February 6, 2017
Mais uma daquelas leituras que nos conseguem transmitir um misto de sensações, desde a revolta por todo o horror causado nesta época até à admiração por alguém que, mesmo sem querer ser considerada uma heroína, não deixa de o ser.
Foi uma leitura lenta, mas que me causou um grande impacto. A autora está de parabéns por todo o seu trabalho de pesquisa e de narração dos factos. Sim, porque este livro não tem nada de ficção. É a realidade, nua e crua.
Não foi uma leitura muito fácil devido à natureza do livro e, também, devido quantidade de nomes referidos que, muitas vezes, acabavam por me confundir um pouco. No entanto, adorei conhecer a história desta mulher e o modo como ajudou cerca de 2500 crianças a sobreviver ao Holocausto. É um relato incrível de força, determinação, coragem e inteligência. Irena Sendler é um nome que merece, sem dúvida, ser reconhecido.
Um livro que aconselho a todos aqueles que se interessam sobre o tema.
Profile Image for Debbie Carnes.
239 reviews148 followers
October 26, 2016
A part of history few know about. People have heard of Schindler and all that he did to help during WW2, This is about Irena Sendler a courageous young woman and others who helped save the lives of more then two thousand Jewish children.
This is one of the best books I've read in a very long time.
Thank goodness there were and still are people in this world that care so much about others that they put their own lives on the line.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,184 reviews

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