Summary and book reviews of In My Hands by Irene Gut Opdyke

In My Hands

Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer

by Irene Gut Opdyke

In My Hands
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  • First Published:
    Aug 1999, 276 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2001, 304 pages

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Book Summary

"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."  An amazing, courageous, uplifting autobiography about a brave teenager who was not afraid to get involved.

"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...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. When Germany invades Poland, Irene is separated from her family and loses her country. She says, "In the war, everything was unnatural and unreal. . . ." What is life like during wartime? How does Irene react to her new circumstances? How does she manage to adapt to the new reality that is thrust upon her?

     
  2. Irene asks "Was that girl me? In the war . . . we wore masks and spoke lines that were not our own." Discuss the different masks that Irene wears during the war. How much do you think her flair for acting contributes to her survival? What role does she finally define for herself?
    ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Opdyke opens her story with her parents' first meeting in 1921, closes with a 1949 invitation to emigrate to the US, and in between straightforwardly, with restrained passion, lays out a strong tale of innocence burned away by repeated atrocity, of courage fueled by anger and opportunity. (Biography. 13-15)

School Library Journal

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.

Publishers Weekly

Even among WWII memoirs--a genre studded with extraordinary stories--this 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..... Readers will be riveted--and no one can fail to be inspired by Opdyke's courage. Ages 10-up.

Publishers Weekly

Even among WWII memoirs--a genre studded with extraordinary stories--this 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..... Readers will be riveted--and no one can fail to be inspired by Opdyke's courage. Ages 10-up.

School Library Journal

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.

Reader Reviews

Jenna

So Touching
I loved this book. We had a project due and I chose the Holocaust. This book symbolizes strength and love. Its amazing how one girl who lost so much can fight with that much strength and passion. Irene is a wonderful roll model and I`m going to use ...   Read More

Nancy

A Remarkable Story of Courage
This autobiography shows how the author fought the Germans. As she states, it began with small steps, she began by feeding the Jews under the eyes & employment of German officers. Later, she joins the resistance movement. She was an extremely ...   Read More

Lexie

Forced yet Enjoyed
For my summer reading this year for going into 11th grade I was forced to read this book. At first I was SO not looking forward to it. It seems that when you are forced to read a book you never enjoy it. However, that is not how I felt here. I ...   Read More

Zach

AWESOME!
We are reading this book for our literature circles in our ELA class. Very striking story, really makes you feel you are in the war yourself!

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