Endurance is the core character trait for the month of November. Often considered a characteristic of athletes, this virtue is important for anyone facing difficult situations.
What is Endurance?
Endurance is doing what is right in the face of difficulty. The inward strength to withstand stress and do my very best. It is also known as fortitude.
Where does the word come from?
Word etymology: The primary Latin root of endure is durare, meaning “to harden; to hold out; to make last.” This word describes the hardness of wood. The English word endurance combines the Latin durare with a Latin preposition meaning “in.” Endurance is an internal strength. Endurance enables a person to weather the storms of life and press forward in the right direction.
Endurance in Action: Irena Sendler
Imagine risking your life to save someone. People do it in the movies and on tv every day. We all like to think we would be up to the task if faced with the situation. That’s what being a superhero is all about. But imagine doing it every day for more than three years. That’s what Irena Sendler did following the German invasion of Poland in 1939.
Even though it almost cost her everything, she helped save 2,500 Jewish children trapped by the German occupation. But for Irena, it was not about being a hero, it was simply about doing what was right. This young Polish social worker had already been disobeying the laws by giving Jews food and shelter following the invasion, but when the Nazis restricted the Jews to the Warsaw Ghetto she chose to do more. With as many as 4,000 Jews dying a month due to the terrible living conditions, Irena used her position in the Welfare Department to gain access to the Warsaw Ghetto and smuggle out orphaned Jewish children.
She knew that if she was caught, both she and her family would be arrested. But she also could see that if she didn’t act innocent people would die. Her powerful sense of right and wrong drove her and gave her the courage to face the dangers that lurked everywhere.
With the help of other members of the Polish underground movement known as Zegota, Irena smuggled children out in coffins, potato sacks, and tool boxes through three main routes: the sewers, a church on the edge of the ghetto, and the main gate to the neighborhood.
In 1942, the Nazis began deporting the Jews to the Treblinka death camp. Irena knew time was running out for the children. She took on the difficult task of convincing parents to part with their little sons and daughters so she could hide them in homes until the war was over. With the hope that she would someday be able to reunite the families, she kept the name of every child she saved in a glass jar. To keep it safe, Irena buried it under an apple tree near her home.
After a year of multiple rescue missions a day, she was finally arrested, tortured and scheduled to be executed. Even facing certain death, she refused to reveal the locations of the children she had hidden. Members of her underground movement, though, were not going to let her perish, bribing the prison guards to to secure her escape and to keep the children safe. She remained in hiding for the rest of the war. Finally, as the Nazis were defeated in 1945, she dug up the jar under the apple tree and began fulfilling her promise to reunite the children with their families.
Despite Irena’s courageous actions, she lived in obscurity until 1999 when three high school students in rural Kansas found her name on a list. Intrigued by the lack of information about a woman who had saved 2,500 children, they decided to research her actions for their National History Day project.
The students went on to write a play called Life in a Jar. While doing their research, they learned she was still alive, and they began a correspondence with her, and began performing their play across the country. As a result of their hard work, Irena was awarded Poland’s Order of White Eagle and the Jan Karski award for Valor and Courage in 2003.
Quotes from Irena Sendler
“Every child saved with my help and the help of all the wonderful secret messengers, who today are no longer living, is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory.” – Irena Sendler
“As for me, it was simple. I remember what my father had taught me. When someone is drowning, give him your hand. And I simply tried to extend my hand to the Jewish people.” – Irena Sendler
“Heroes do extraordinary things. What I did was not an extraordinary thing. It was normal.” Irena Sendler
- How did Irena exemplify endurance? In what kinds of situations do people practice endurance?
- Why did Irena never give up? What kept her going?
- What other virtues did Irena have that helped her endure great difficulties?
- Irena did not have to use her position to help others, but she believe it was the normal thing to do. How can use your gifts and strengths to do what is right?
- Irena knew she needed help to save as many children as possible. How do you decide when you need support?
- How can you face the difficulties in your own life and choose to do the right thing?
- How do you stay positive in difficult situations?
- After she was arrested, Irena spent the rest of the war in hiding because she knew she was the only one who could reunite the children with any surviving family members. Why is it important to see your work to the end?
- Irena spent much of her life unknown, why is it important to always do what is right even if no one is there to recognize it?
- Life in a Jar: Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes
- Click to read about Wisdom, the character trait of September.
- Click to read about Justice, the character trait of October.
- Click to read about Self-Control, the character trait of December.
- Click to read about Love, the character trait of January.
- Click to read about Integrity, the character trait of February.
- Click to read about Determination, the character trait of March.
- Click to read about Gratefulness, character trait of April.
- Click to read about Humility, character trait of May.