Irena's Children

The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto

Irena's Children

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 she was there, she began to understand the fate that awaited the Jewish families who were unable to leave. Soon she reached out to the trapped families, going from door to door and asking them to trust her with their young children. 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 a secret list buried in bottles under an old apple tree in a friend’s back garden. On it were the names and true identities of these Jewish children, recorded so their families could find them after the war. She could not know that more than ninety percent of their families would perish.

Irena’s Children, “a fascinating narrative of…the extraordinary moral and physical courage of those who chose to fight inhumanity with compassion” (Chaya Deitsch author of Here and There: Leaving Hasidism, Keeping My Family), is a truly heroic tale of survival, resilience, and redemption.
  • Gallery Books | 
  • 352 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781476778518 | 
  • June 2017
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Reading Group Guide

This readers group guide for Irena’s Children includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Tilar J. Mazzeo. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


When German forces occupying Poland during World War II begin isolating and eradicating the Jewish population of Warsaw under Hitler’s orders, Irena Sendler, a young social worker, courageously devotes herself to saving as many people as she can. Inspired by the life and work of her professor and mentor, Dr. Helena Radlińska, Sendler collaborates with fellow students, friends, her forbidden Jewish lover Adam, and countless others to deliver children of all ages from the hell of the Warsaw ghetto to hidden safe spots elsewhere in the city. The heroes in her network risk their lives daily—and many lose their lives—in order to save more than 2,500 children and countless adults who would otherwise be sent to their deaths at the hands of the Nazis. With a healthcare pass, Sendler travels in and out of the ghetto herself, making secret deliveries of food and medicine and smuggling out babies and children whose desperate parents beg her to take them. Although the discovery of any record-keeping would mean see more

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Eliza Hamilton

About the Author

Tilar J. Mazzeo
Photograph courtesy of author

Tilar J. Mazzeo

Tilar J. Mazzeo is the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle bestselling author of books that include The Widow Clicquot, The Secret of Chanel No. 5, and Hotel on the Place Vendôme. She also writes on food and wine for the mainstream press, and her work has appeared in venues such as Food & Wine and in her Back-Lane Wineries guidebook series (Ten Speed Press). Her course on creative nonfiction (Great Courses), featured as in-flight viewing content on Virgin America airlines, is widely distributed and has made her a nationally prominent teacher of writing in nonfiction genres. The Clara C. Piper Associate Professor of English at Colby College, she divides her time among coastal Maine, New York City, and Saanichton, British Columbia, where she lives with her husband and stepchildren.