"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.
Part Two: Finding Wings
I was awakened by gunfire and explosions. I sat bolt upright in bed, looking around in confusion. When I moved to the window and nudged aside the blackout curtain, I was greeted by the dull clap of detonation. Rokita's men were doing their work, the final Aktion in Ternopol. I could not keep the tears from coming. They spilled onto the front of my dress as I tied my apron around my waist.
Schulz was already in the kitchen when I arrived, wide-eyed and shaking. He handed me a cup of coffee and put one arm across my shoulders. "Irene, the pogrom will be over soon. You must compose yourself."
Through the window, we could see smoke billowing up beyond the roof of the factory, from the direction of the ghetto. Behind us, the door opened and the major came in, pale and sick-looking.
"Schulz, something for a hangover," he said, groping for a chair. He sat down, and with each explosion and burst of gunfire, his shoulders jerked. He was muttering...
If you liked In My Hands, try these:
The remarkable diary of a young girl who survived the Holocaustappearing in English for the first time.
A powerful and riveting account of a seemingly halcyon life lived mere paces from a center of evil and madness; a remarkable memoir of an "ordinary" childhood spent in an extraordinary time and place.
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