In My Hands
Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer
Publication Date: August 17, 1999
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"You must understand that I did not become a resistance fighter, a smuggler of Jews, a defier of the SS and the Nazis all at once. One's first steps are always small: I had begun by hiding food under a fence."
Through this intimate and compelling memoir, we are witness to the growth of a hero. Irene Gut was just a girl when the war began: seventeen, a Polish patriot, a student nurse, a good Catholic girl. As the war progressed, the soldiers of two countries stripped her of all she loved — her family, her home, her innocence — but the degradations only strengthened her will.
She began to fight back. Irene was forced to work for the German Army, but her blond hair, her blue eyes, and her youth bought her the relatively safe job of waitress in an officers' dining room. She would use this Aryan mask as both a shield and a sword: She picked up snatches of conversation along with the Nazis' dirty dishes and passed the information to Jews in the ghetto. She raided the German Warenhaus for food and blankets. She smuggled people from the work camp into the forest. And, when she was made the housekeeper of a Nazi major, she successfully hid twelve Jews in the basement of his home until the Germans' defeat.
This young woman was determined to deliver her friends from evil. It was as simple and as impossible as that.
Irene Gut Opdyke has received international recognition for her actions: the Israeli Holocaust Commission named her one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a title given to those who risked their lives by aiding and saving Jews during the Holocaust, and so she was presented with the Israel Medal of Honor, Israel's highest tribute, in a ceremony at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial; the Vatican has given her a special commendation; and her story is part of a permanent exhibit in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Ms. Opdyke began to share her story only recently -- after hearing the Holocaust denounced as a hoax or propaganda. She now travels the country, speaking to groups large and small, old and young.
Irene also opened her life, through many hours of interviews, to Jennifer Armstrong, a noted author of books for young adults, so that her story could continue to be told, even beyond her ability to tell it.