June 1, 2017

Book Review: Irena's Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo

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

by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, WWII
Publisher: Gallery Books
Page Count: 317
Published: September 27, 2016
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes and Noble
Note: A young readers edition is also available for ages 10+ (a detail of this cover is shown below).

My Goodreads Rating: 5/5 stars

Official Book Summary:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Widow Clicquot comes an extraordinary and gripping 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.

In Irena’s Children, Tilar Mazzeo tells the incredible story of this courageous and brave woman who risked her life to save innocent children from the Holocaust—a truly heroic tale of survival, resilience, and redemption.


"Before she was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo, Irena Sendler saved the lives of more than two thousand Jewish children. At immense risk she kept a list of their names so that after the war their parents could find them.... But while Irena Sendler was undeniably a heroine--a woman of immense, almost unfathomable moral and physical courage--she was not a saint either. To make her a saint in the telling of her story is, in the end, to do a kind of dishonor to the true complexity and difficulty of her very human choices.... 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." (from the Preface)

My Review:

Read this book!

Irena's Children is the true account of an unbelievably brave and courageous woman who saved over 2,500 Jewish children in Warsaw during World War II. It's a powerful and heartbreaking story and I'm so glad it's finally being told. Irena's ability to defy the law, continually put her own life at risk, and do whatever was necessary to save these children is truly outstanding. She endured torture and gave everything she had to this cause. Like Oskar Schindler, Irena Sendler was a complicated figure, but I actually found this encouraging--she was not perfect, but she kept trying to help others. She saved so many lives, rescuing thousands of children's from death, poverty, starvation, and concentration camps.

I'm in awe of what she accomplished and I wish everyone could hear her story. Along these lines, the book was adapted into a young readers edition so you can share her story with children and teens.

If You Like This, Try...

Nonfiction: The Diary of a Young Girl, Night, Schindler's List, Maus, The Hiding Place, Unbroken, The Boy on the Wooden Box

Fiction: Slaughterhouse-Five, Number the Stars, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, A Separate Peace, The Book Thief, Atonement, All the Light We Cannot See, The Nightingale, Sarah's Key, In the Garden of Beasts, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Women in the Castle

Children and Young Adult: So Far from the Bamboo Grove, Year of Impossible Goodbyes, The Devil's Arithmetic, Hidden, The War that Saved My Life, Salt to the Sea, Between Shades of Gray, Orphan Train


  1. This has been on my list for a while, bumping it up (again).


    1. I'll be interested to see what you think once you've read it! Hurrah for reclaiming women's roles in history!