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In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuerby Irene Gut Opdyke
Synopses & Reviews
Raoul Wallenberg's name may not be familiarand#160;to you but the impact he had during World War II is immeasurable.and#160; Raoul was a Swedish humanitarian who worked in Budapest, Hungary, during WWII to rescue Jews from the Holocaust. He did this by issuing protective passports and housing Jews in buildings established as Swedish territory, saving tens of thousands of lives.and#160; Louise Borden has been researching Raoul's story for many years.and#160; She has visited with his family, gone to the site of his home and his workplaces, seen his baby photos, and has learned his story from beginning to end.and#160; Raoul himself cannot tell his story, as he has not been heard from since 1945.and#160; It is suspected he died while in Russian custody, though this has never been proven.
Raoul was born into a banking family, and he studied all over the world as a young man - spending time throughout Europe, in the United States, Mexico, and Africa.and#160; He studied architecture and worked in Israel, and eventually got a job inand#160;Sweden, working for an import-export company. and#160;In 1936, when he had to enlist with the Swedish army, rumblings of war were heavy in the air.and#160; Raoul readMein Kampf; he knew what evil ideas Hitler had.and#160; When war broke out officially in 1939 and 1940, Sweden stayed out of it — only one of a few countries to do so. Sweden was neutral, but Europe was in a very dark place.and#160;and#160;Jews were forced to identify themselves; they lost their jobs, could not travel, could not attend school with non-Jews.and#160; Raoul's life remained mostly unchanged untiland#160; he saw a movie about a man who helped Jews escape — Raoul wanted to help, too.
When Hungary was invaded by the Nazis and the formerly safe Jews were put into terrible danger, Raoul was moved to action. Raoul's boss, a Hungarian Jew, could no longer travel between Sweden and Hungary safely.and#160; Raoul, however, being a citizen of a neutal country, could.and#160; Jews were being deported fromand#160;Hungary in record numbers.and#160; When Franklin Delano Roosevelt was looking for someone familiar with Budapest, and who could mount a rescue mission for the Hungarian Jews, Raoul was the answer.
In 1944, Raoul traveled to Budapest as the First Secretary to the Swedish embassy in Budapest. With another Swedish diplomat Per Anger he issued "protective passports," orand#160;SchutzPasses, which identified the holders as Swedish subjects awaiting repatriation and thus prevented their deportation. Although not legal, these documents looked official and were generally accepted by German and Hungarian authorities (along with bribes).and#160;and#160;With support from the American War Refugee Board, Raoul rented 32 buildings in Budapest and declared them to be extraterritorial, protected by diplomatic immunity. He put up signs such as "The Swedish Library" and "The Swedish Research Institute" on their doors and hung oversize Swedish flags on the front of the buildings. These buildings housed almost 10,000 people.and#160; Over 350 people were involved in rescuing the Hungarianand#160;Jews; Raoul slept in a different building each night to avoid being captured by the Hungarian Nazis.and#160;and#160;It was a difficult, scary time, but Raoul knew that he and his large team were doing the right thing.
In 1945, Raoul was suspected of being an American spy by the Russians.and#160;and#160;He likely died while in their custody, though no one knows for sure if he was killled or if he died of natural causes, as the Russians suggest.and#160; He was named an honorary American citizen in 1981, and has been honored in similar ways in numerous other countries.and#160;and#160;
Raoul Wallenberg...it's a name you might not know, but you'll never forget his story.and#160;and#160;
Recounts the experiences of the author who, as a young Polish girl, hid and saved Jews during the Holocaust.
Here is a brief summary of Irene's story:
Irene Gut was sixteen years old in 1939 when first the Russians and then the Germans invaded her native Poland. Along with many other Catholic Poles, Irene was forced to work for the German army, but she defied them in every other way.
While working in the kitchen and laundry room of a Nazi barracks, she saved hundreds of lives by warning Jews in the Tarnopol Ghetto of impending raids and by regularly smuggling food and supplies to those hiding in the Polish forest.
Given the job of housekeeper in a German Major's villa, Ms. Opdyke managed to smuggle twelve Jews into the basement of his home just hours before the ghetto was to be liquidated. She hid them successfully for nearly a year before they were discovered by the Major. His price for silence was that Irene must become his mistress. This she endured for months until the Germans began losing ground to the Russians and she was able to help her wards escape into the woods.
When the Germans were driven from Poland, the Russians remained and Irene continued to fight the injustices she saw. She joined a successful group of partisan saboteurs and soon found herself on the Russian Red Army's Most Wanted list. In an ironic twist of fate, she was herself hidden by the same Jews she had hidden in the German Major's basement.
Irene learned that her mother and sisters had been arrested by the Russians in hopes that they would reveal her whereabouts. Knowing she would only endanger her family more by trying to contact them, Irene allowed her friends to smuggle her into a Jewish repatriation camp. There she was interviewed by William Opdyke, a delegate from the United Nations, who approved heremigration to the United States. And so, at age 26, Irene sailed alone into New York Harbor to begin her life anew, Five years later she and William Opdyke would meet again by chance in a cafeteria at the U.N. Six weeks after that they were married and they lived happily and quietly for many years.
It wasn't until 1975, when she heard a neo-Nazi call the holocaust a hoax, that Irene decided she must share her story. Today she travels and speaks extensively about her experiences and is especially drawn to groups of young people, whom she hopes to empower with the message that each of us can and must decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil and behave accordingly.
"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.
About the Author
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.
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