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 Polilsh 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 degradation only strengthened her will. She began to fight back. Irene was forced to work for the German army, but her blond hair, blue eyes, and youth brought her the relatively safe job of waitress in an officer's dining room. She picked up snatches of conversation along with the Nazis' dirty dishes and passed the information to Jews. She raided the German Warenhaus for food and blankets. She smuggled people from the work camp into the forest. And, when she was made housekeeper for a Nazi major, she successfully hid 12 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 impossible as that.
In My Hands began as one non-Jew’s challenge to any who would deny the Holocaust. Much like The Diary of Anne Frank, it has become a profound document of an individual’s heroism in the face of the greatest evil mankind has known.
In the fall of 1939 the Nazis invaded Irene Gut’s beloved Poland, ending her training as a nurse and thrusting the sixteen-year-old Catholic girl into a world of degradation that somehow gave her the strength to accomplish what amounted to miracles. Forced into the service of the German army, young Irene was able, due in part to her Aryan good looks, to use her position as a servant in an officers’ club to steal food and supplies (and even information overheard at the officers’ tables) for the Jews in the ghetto. She smuggled Jews out of the work camps, ultimately hiding a dozen people in the home of a Nazi major for whom she was housekeeper.
An important addition to the literature of human survival and heroism, In My Hands is further proof of why, in spite of everything, we must believe in the goodness of people.
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of In My Hands, written by Irene Gut Opdyke with Jennifer Armstrong. This awe-inspiring memoir of a young Polish girl who became a Holocaust rescuer--responsible for saving twelve Jews--portrays with stunning vividness the triumph of a real-life heroine over the grossest of human atrocities.
“Few memoirs of the Holocaust tell in such vivid detail what it was like for a non-Jew to risk life day after day, year after year, to save the lives of people Hitler was bound to exterminate. No one reading In My Hands will ever forget the devotion to humanity this young Polish Catholic girl lived, and almost died, by.”–Milton Meltzer, author of Never to Forget: The Jews of the Holocaust
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