2011 Sendler Award goes to woman who rescued children

Magdalena (Magda) Grodzka-Guzkowska, a Polish resistance fighter and rescuer of Jewish children in World War II, is the 2011 recipient of the Irena Sendler Memorial Award, it was announced May 12.

Granted annually to a non-Jewish Pole who has worked to preserve Jewish heritage and foster Jewish cultural renewal in Poland, the award was created in 2008 by the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture. It is in memory of Irena Sendler, a Righteous Gentile who saved more than 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.

In announcing the award, Tad Taube, chairman of the Taube Foundation, said, “Magda exemplifies all that this award was meant to honor. Her selfless bravery as she worked alongside Irena Sendler enabled thousands of Jewish children to survive. Who can count the descendants directly attributable to her heroism?”

Born in 1925, Magda was 15 when she joined the Polish Anti-Nazi Underground. In 1943, working secretly with a network of other Poles led by Sendler, she began assisting with the rescue of Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto.

One child she saved was 5-year-old Wlodzio Berg, who later moved to New York with his family. Decades after the war, Berg (now named William Donat) was reunited with Grodzka-Guzkowska, an emotional meeting that was detailed in the film “Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers.” The Koret Foundation and Taube Philanthropies fronted seed funding for filmmaker Mary Skinner to make that documentary and helped secure a commitment for it to be shown recently on PBS.

When Donat discovered that his rescuer was alive, he petitioned Yad Vashem to recognize her as Righteous Among the Nations, which it did in 2009.

Late in her life, Grodzka-Guzkowska discovered that she herself was Jewish. Now a respected member of Warsaw’s Jewish community, she has pledged to leave her home and property to the community after her death.