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2 Local Warehouse Children's- Peace and Justice

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer

by

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer Cover

ISBN13: 9780679891819
ISBN10: 0679891811
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Excerpt

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."

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

hoozer1212, May 7, 2007 (view all comments by hoozer1212)
If you are ever feeling sorry for yourself, read this book and realize just how bad things could be.
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(3 of 9 readers found this comment helpful)

Product Details

ISBN:
9780679891819
With:
Armstrong, Jennifer
Author:
Armstrong, Jennifer
Author:
Opdyke, Irene Gut
Author:
Borden, Louise W
Author:
Irene Opdyke with Jennifer Armstrong
Author:
Opdyke, Irene
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Subject:
Biography
Subject:
World war, 1939-1945
Subject:
Biography & Autobiography - Historical
Subject:
Authors
Subject:
Jews
Subject:
Children's 9-12 - History - General
Subject:
Poland
Subject:
History - Holocaust
Subject:
Historical
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
20120116
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
from 7
Language:
English
Illustrations:
16 PAGES BLACK and WHITE PHOTOS
Pages:
144
Dimensions:
10 x 7.5 in 9.99 lb
Age Level:
10-14

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Related Subjects

Children's » Peace and Justice

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$5.95 In Stock
Product details 144 pages Alfred A. Knopf - English 9780679891819 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , Recounts the experiences of the author who, as a young Polish girl, hid and saved Jews during the Holocaust.
"Synopsis" by , 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.

"Synopsis" by , "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.

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