Many of the books that are popular with young adults have a life crisis as their theme. All teenagers can relate to trauma and good novels and biographies often help the reader to see through the anguish. They can show us how others behave in difficult situations, how they manage to survive and grow stronger. One such book is In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer.
This memoir, written by Irene Gut Opdyke, discusses the author’s experience as a Holocaust rescuer in Poland. Opdyke, now a senior citizen living in Southern California, decided to write about her experiences during the Holocaust when she saw Southern Californian teenagers claiming to be ‘neo-Nazis.’
Irene Gut was a Polish Catholic who had been raised to ‘do the right thing.’ When she was seventeen, her country was invaded, first by Russians who rape and imprison her, and later by Germans who hold her as a slave laborer. When a German officer discovers that Irene speaks German fluently, he removes her from a factory and places her in a German officers’ hall. Here she befriends several Jews who work in the laundry and can view the Jewish ghetto, created by the Germans. She witnesses the murder of innocent people in the streets and learns that extermination camps are the German answer to “the Jewish problem.” From this day forward, Irene helps Jewish people whenever she can although she knows the penalty for doing so is death.
Beginning with small acts such as stealing food from the officers’ hall and taking it to the ghetto, Irene’s bravery becomes astounding as she saves all of her friends who work in the laundry from being removed to death camps, aids freedom fighters in the forest, and even hides Jews in the basement of a high-ranking German officer’s home. I think her story is so inspiring to teenagers because Irene was between seventeen and twenty-two years old when she did these things.
In My Hands is available in our library now.