Cover image for In my hands : memories of a Holocaust rescuer
In my hands : memories of a Holocaust rescuer
Opdyke, Irene Gut, 1921-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Knopf, 1999.
Physical Description:
276 pages, 12 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 22 cm
Recounts the experiences of the author who, as a young Polish girl, hid and saved Jews during the Holocaust.
Reading Level:
890 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 6.0 11.0 34749.

Reading Counts RC High School 5.9 14 Quiz: 19260 Guided reading level: NR.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D804.66 .O73 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
D804.66 .O73 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



IRENE GUT WAS just 17 in 1939, when the Germans and Russians devoured her native Poland. Just a girl, really. But a girl who saw evil and chose to defy it. "No matter how many Holocaust stories one has read, this one is a must, for its impact is so powerful."--"School Library Journal," Starred "A" Book Sense "Top Ten Pick" "A" Publisher's Weekly "Choice of the Year's Best Books" "A" Booklist "Editors Choice"

Author Notes

Irene Gut Opdyke lives in Yorba Linda, California.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 9^-12. Irene Gut was 17 and a student nurse when the Nazis invaded Poland. Within a year's time, she had experienced more horror than most people see in a lifetime, including being raped by Russian soldiers. Irene's tangled journey eventually takes her to a Nazi complex, where she is forced to work as a waitress. The building abuts a Jewish ghetto, and Irene starts leaving food for the residents. This first step toward helping the beleaguered Jews leads to Irene's ever-increasing involvement: passing information, then smuggling Jews from a work camp into the forest, and, in her boldest, most dangerous act, hiding 10 Jewish men and women in the basement of the Nazi major for whom she works. When the major, who has always fancied the pretty, Aryan-looking Irene, learns of her deception, he shockingly agrees to keep her secret--if she will become his mistress. This Irene does willingly to keep her charges alive. The first-person narrative pours out in a hurried rush as if the young Irene is almost trying to rid herself of her memories as well as tell her story. Although this technique does not allow readers to know any of the other people very well (the Jews hiding in the basement are almost indistinct), it effectively captures the bedlam and turmoil that is war, where every decision could be one's last. Still, there are certain images that stand out in relief: Irene's insistence that one of the Jewish women in hiding continue her pregnancy, and the horror of seeing a Jewish baby thrown in the air and shot down like a bird. There are so many Holocaust books these days, each touching in its own way. Opdyke's is special, not only because of its unique perspective (and its focus on the years directly before and after the war when Irene spied against the Russians) but also because it speaks so personally to teenagers. Irene is one of them. The fear, horror, worry, and bravery she recounts so affectingly could have been theirs. The question becomes more than what would you do? It is also who will you be if you survive? --Ilene Cooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

Even among WWII memoirsÄa genre studded with extraordinary storiesÄthis autobiography looms large, a work of exceptional substance and style. Opdyke, born in 1922 to a Polish Catholic family, was a 17-year-old nursing student when Germany invaded her country in 1939. She spent a year tending to the ragtag remnants of a Polish military unit, hiding out in the forest with them; was captured and raped by Russians; was forced to work in a Russian military hospital; escaped and lived under a false identity in a village near Kiev; and was recaptured by the Russians. But her most remarkable adventures were still to come. Back in her homeland, she, like so many Poles, was made to serve the German army, and she eventually became a waitress in an officers' dining hall. She made good use of her positionÄrisking her life, she helped Jews in the ghetto by passing along vital information, smuggling in food and helping them escape to the forest. When she was made the housekeeper of a German major, she used his villa to hide 12 JewsÄand, at enormous personal cost, kept them safe throughout the war. In translating Opdyke's experiences to memoir (see Children's Books, June 14), Armstrong and Opdyke demonstrate an almost uncanny power to place readers in the young Irene's shoes. Even as the authors handily distill the complexities of the military and political conditions of wartime Poland, they present Irene as simultaneously strong and vulnerableÄa likable flesh-and-blood woman rather than a saint. Telling details, eloquent in their understatement, render Irene's shock at German atrocities and the gradually built foundation of her heroic resistance. Metaphors weave in and out, simultaneously providing a narrative structure and offering insight into Irene's experiences. Readers will be rivetedÄand no one can fail to be inspired by Opdyke's courage. Ages 10-up. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 7 Up-An amazing, courageous, uplifting autobiography (Knopf) about a brave teenager who was not afraid to get involved. Irene Gut Opdyke, Polish national, although homesick and separated from her own family, found herself in the right place during World War II to help at least 12 Jews survive the Nazi occupation. The author herself introduces the tape providing insight into her motivation. Her older voice contrasts nicely with the unaccented, talented, youthful film and Broadway actress, Hope Davis, who reads the first person memoir. Davis' expressive voice is gentle, effectively portraying Irene's personality. Although she relates emotional scenes, she remains detached so that the story can be told. The narration flows quickly and keeps listeners eagerly awaiting more. Davis expertly pronounces the many foreign names without hesitation. Opdyke's memoir is especially good for young people because she shows how one young person can make a significant difference. She recognizes that not all Germans were hateful. Although she refers to violence, there are very few graphic scenes. A wonderful addition to Holocaust collections.-Claudia Moore, W.T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Villa The instant I was able to get away after breakfast, I walked to the villa as quickly as I could -- quickly enough to put a stitch in my side and to break a sweat in the heat. I unlocked the door and burst inside, dreading the sound of painters bumping ladders against the furniture. But it was silent. I was in time -- assuming that my friends were indeed waiting in the basement. The smell of cabbage and potatoes lingered in the air. Almost fearing what I might find, I opened the basement door and clattered down the stairs, my shoes making a racket on the wooden steps. "Hoo-ee! It's Irene!" I called out. The first room was empty. Trying not to worry, I opened the door to the furnace room, praying to find my six friends -- and Henry Weinbaum. The door creaked as it swung open into the gloom, and I called out again. "It's Irene!" There was an almost audible sigh of relief. One by one, figures emerged from the shadows: Ida, Lazar, Clara, Thomas, Fanka, Moses Steiner, and a young, handsome fellow I took to be Henry Weinbaum. I shook hands with them all silently, suddenly overcome with emotion. They were all there; they were safe and alive. And then, to my surprise, I found three strangers, who greeted me with an odd mixture of sheepishness and defiance. "I'm Joseph Weiss," the eldest of the three said. "And this is Marian Wilner and Alex Rosen. Henry told us." For a moment I was at a loss. I had ten lives in my hands now! But there wasn't time for lengthy introductions. The soldiers from the plant were due any minute to start painting. "Hurry, everyone," I said. "You'll have to stay in the attic until the house is painted. I'll check on you as often as I can. I don't need to tell you not to make any noise at all." This was met with grim nods all around. Then we made our way upstairs. The attic was musty; dust swirled in a shaft of light from the high window, and the air smelled of mouse droppings. "Shoes off," I said. "Don't walk around unless you absolutely must." I locked them in just as trucks ground to a halt out on the street. I kicked the basement door shut on my way to let in the soldiers, and then unlocked the front door. "This way," I said, stepping aside to usher them in with their painting equipment and drop cloths. When I glanced outside, I saw the major climbing out of a car. " Guten Tag, Irene," he called cheerily. I bobbed my head. "Herr Major." "This is splendid," he said, rubbing his hands together as he came inside. "I'll move in in a week or so, when all the painting and repairs are finished, but in the meantime, I'd like you to move in right away, so that you can oversee things. Don't worry about your duties at the hotel -- if you can serve dinner, Schulz can manage without you the rest of the time." As he spoke, Major Rügemer strolled back and forth across the hallway, glancing into the rooms and nodding his approval. His footsteps echoed off the walls, and he muttered, " Ja, ja, ausgezeichnet ," under his breath. Then, when another truckload of soldiers arrived, he went outside to meet them and show them around the garden: There were renovations to be made on the grounds, as well. I stood at the dining room window, watching him point out the gazebo and indicate which shrubs and trees should be removed and where new ones should be planted. Behind me, I could hear the painters beginning to shove furniture across the floors, exchanging jokes and commenting on the weather and the sour cabbagey smell left behind by the previous tenants. I heard one of them say "...the major's girlfriend." I gritted my teeth and prepared to spend the day keeping the soldiers away from the attic. For the next few days, while the soldiers swarmed around the villa -- painting, repairing, replanting -- I contrived to smuggle food upstairs to the attic. I took fruit and cheese, cold tea, bread and nuts. I also took up two buckets to use for toilets. The attic was stuffy with the heat of summer, but we were reluctant to open the one window high on the wall. The fugitives had accustomed themselves to much more discomfort than this. They were willing to sit in the stifling heat, not speaking, just waiting. At night, when the workmen were gone and I had returned from the hotel, I was able to give my friends some minutes of liberty. They used the bathroom, stretched their legs, and bathed their sweating faces with cool water. But we did not turn on any lights, and we were still as silent as ghosts. It wasn't long before the servants' quarters had been completely refurbished; I had seen to that. Telling the workmen that the major had ordered the work to be done from bottom to top, I directed them to start with the basement. Then, when it was finished, I waited until dark and triumphantly escorted my friends to their new quarters, fresh with the smell of sawdust and new paint instead of old cooking. It was the start of a new way of life for all of us. Several of the men, being handy and intelligent, were able to rig up a warning system. A button was installed in the floor of the front entry foyer, under a faded rug. From it, a wire led to a light in the basement, which would flicker on and off when I stepped on the button. I kept the front door locked at all times, and when I went to see who might be knocking, I had ample opportunity to signal to the people in the basement. One flash would warn them to stand by for more news. Two flashes meant to be very careful, and constant flashing meant danger -- hide immediately. We had also found the villa's rumored hiding place: A tunnel led from behind the furnace to a bunker underneath the gazebo. If there was serious danger, everyone could instantly scramble into the hole and wait for me to give them the all clear. The cellar was kept clear of any signs of occupation. Once the men had killed all the rats living in the bunker under the gazebo, it could accommodate all ten people without too much discomfort. There was food in plenty; Schulz kept the major's kitchen stocked with enough to feed a platoon, and once again, I could not help wondering if he had an inkling of what I was doing. I was also able to go to the Warenhaus whenever I needed to, for cigarettes, vodka, sugar, extra household goods, anything the major might conceivably need for entertaining in his new villa. Of course, the soldiers who ran the Warenhaus had no way of knowing that half of what I got there went directly into the basement, and I was certainly not going to tell them! The basement was cool even in the intense summer heat; there was a bathroom, and newspapers, which I brought down after the major was finished with them. All in all, the residents of the basement enjoyed quite a luxurious hiding place. And yet it almost fell apart when the major moved in at last. "The basement is finished, isn't it?" he asked me when he arrived. All the hairs on my arms prickled with alarm. "Do you have some plans for it, Major?" I asked, keeping my voice from showing my fear. He unbuttoned the top button of his tunic. "I'm sure it will do very well for my orderly." I felt the blood drain from my face, and Major Rügemer looked at me in surprise. "What is it?" I did not have to fake the tears that sprang to my eyes. "Please don't move him in here," I pleaded. My mind raced with explanations. "I never told you this, but at the beginning of the war, I was captured by Russian soldiers and -- and I was -- " My throat closed up. The major frowned at me. "You were what?" "They attacked me, sir, in the way that men attack women." Excerpted from In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Tearsp. 1
Part 1 1 Was Almost Fast enoughp. 3
Part 2 Finding Wingsp. 77
Part 3 Where Could 1 Come to Rest?p. 235
Amberp. 265
Postscriptp. 267
Polish: A Rough Guide to Pronunciationp. 269
German: A Rough Guide to Pronunciationp. 270
Some Historical Backgroundp. 271
Mapsp. 272
A Note on the Writing of This Bookp. 275