In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer

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IRENE GUT WAS just 17 in 1939, when the Germans and Russians devoured her native Poland. Just a girl, really. But a girl who saw evil and chose to defy it.

“No matter how many Holocaust stories one has read, this one is a must, for its impact is so powerful.”—School Library Journal, Starred

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IRENE GUT WAS just 17 in 1939, when the Germans and Russians devoured her native Poland. Just a girl, really. But a girl who saw evil and chose to defy it.

“No matter how many Holocaust stories one has read, this one is a must, for its impact is so powerful.”—School Library Journal, Starred

A Book Sense Top Ten Pick

A Publisher’s Weekly Choice of the Year’s Best Books

A Booklist Editors Choice

Recounts the experiences of the author who, as a young Polish girl, hid and saved Jews during the Holocaust.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Few anti-Nazis could match the spunk of Irene Gut Opdyke. Not only did this spindly Polish teenager steel food for ghetto Jews from a German officers' club; she smuggled Jews out of work camps and, most daringly of all, hid a dozen fugitives in the home of Nazi major, for whom she worked as a housekeeper!
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. She spent a year tending to the ragtag remnants of a Polish military unit, hiding out in the forest with them; was captured and raped by Russians; was forced to work in a Russian military hospital; escaped and lived under a false identity in a village near Kiev; and was recaptured by the Russians. But her most remarkable adventures were still to come. Back in her homeland, she, like so many Poles, was made to serve the German army, and she eventually became a waitress in an officers' dining hall. She made good use of her position--risking her life, she helped Jews in the ghetto by passing along vital information, smuggling in food and helping them escape to the forest. When she was made the housekeeper of a German major, she used his villa to hide 12 Jews--and, at enormous personal cost, kept them safe throughout the war. In translating Opdyke's experiences to memoir see Children's Books, June 14, Armstrong and Opdyke demonstrate an almost uncanny power to place readers in the young Irene's shoes. Even as the authors handily distill the complexities of the military and political conditions of wartime Poland, they present Irene as simultaneously strong and vulnerable--a likable flesh-and-blood woman rather than a saint. Telling details, eloquent in their understatement, render Irene's shock at German atrocities and the gradually built foundation of her heroic resistance. Metaphors weave in and out, simultaneously providing a narrative structure and offering insight into Irene's experiences. Readers will be riveted--and no one can fail to be inspired by Opdyke's courage. Ages 10-up. Aug. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Irene Gut, a student nurse, was living in Poland when the Nazis invaded. Later she became a Russian prisoner; still later she was a German prisoner. Even as she endured personal violence, she witnessed the Jewish population suffering their own horrors. For no reason that she could explain, she was compelled to help the Jews. She began by providing food surreptitiously. Soon she provided some Jews with a safe work environment. Eventually she hid 12 people in the basement of a German major's villa. As she moved around, she had one thought, to find her family; but it was not until many years after the war that she would accomplish this goal. As the war ended, it was all the souls she had helped who helped her. They fed her, hid her and helped her to move on with her life. This memoir offered another perspective on WW II. Irene performed heroic tasks without any thought of her own safety or well-being. She did it because she knew she had to or people would die. Her good deeds were repaid as those she had helped came back to help her later. Some pictures and two pronunciation guides as well as a historical note are included. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1999, Random House, Anchor, 248p. map. 21cm. 98-54095., $12.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Robin S. Holab-Abelman; White Plains, NY , July 2001 (Vol. 35, No. 4)
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. The author herself introduces the tape providing insight into her motivation. Her older voice contrasts nicely with the unaccented, talented, youthful film and Broadway actress, Hope Davis, who reads the first person memoir. Davis' expressive voice is gentle, effectively portraying Irene's personality. Although she relates emotional scenes, she remains detached so that the story can be told. The narration flows quickly and keeps listeners eagerly awaiting more. Davis expertly pronounces the many foreign names without hesitation. Opdyke's memoir is especially good for young people because she shows how one young person can make a significant difference. She recognizes that not all Germans were hateful. Although she refers to violence, there are very few graphic scenes. A wonderful addition to Holocaust collections.-Claudia Moore, W.T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Horn Book Magazine
Many wartime memories, including a brutal rape at the hands of the advancing Russian soldiers, haunt Polish teenager Irene Gutowna. But none more than the vision of a Jewish baby thrown into the air like a bird and shot. Irene's story-from happy eldest of four daughters to laborer in a German officer's mess hall to member of the Resistance-makes for gripping reading. Witness to the Germans' answer to the "Jewish problem," Irene begins to "not do nothing." She works, at first in small ways, against its evil; ultimately, she risks her own life by hiding twelve Jewish friends in the home of the Nazi major who employs her. Irene takes joy in the secret knowledge that, because of her, her town is not judenrein free of Jews as the Nazis proclaim. When the major discovers her betrayal, the reader's breath stops. Unfortunately, in an attempt to transform Irene's life into art, Jennifer Armstrong imposes upon it language whose beauty works against the horrific events she narrates, lessening rather than extending its force. Perhaps inspired by the fragment of the poem "Portrait of a Woman" by Wislawa Szmborska that serves as epigraph she "holds in her hands a sparrow with a broken wing", Armstrong creates bird and flight imagery that gives structure to a story whose truest understanding evades any meaning or structure. But despite the novelistic flourishes, the power of Irene's true story keeps the reader spellbound. The postscript that details, in words and photographs, the bittersweet histories of Irene and her Jewish "family" comes as a welcome relief.
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. A teenaged student nurse separated from her Polish family, the narrator goes from caring for wounded to waiting tables in a German officers' mess and being a German major's housekeeper, but not before being sexually assaulted by Russian and German soldiers alike, arrested and interrogated, and witnessing systematic massacres and casual brutality. Unable to stand by, she contrives to shelter 12 Jews in the cellar of her employer's own villa, and helps them escape into the wild; in the war's closing months, she joins the Polish Resistance. Although there is evil in plenty here, Opdyke does not see all of her enemies as utter monsters, and with Armstrong seamlessly filling in the inevitable gaps in 50-year-old memories, she paints a coherent, compelling picture of her times, and of the moral necessity that compelled her to action. (b&w photos) (Biography. 13-15)
From the Publisher
“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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553494112
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 9/14/2004
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reissue
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 86,996
  • Age range: 14 - 18 Years
  • Product dimensions: 4.48 (w) x 6.85 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Irene Gut Opdyke was presented with the Israel Medal of Honor and a special commendation from the Vatican. She died in 2003.

Jennifer Armstrong is the author of many highly acclaimed books for young readers. She lives in Saratoga Springs, NY.

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Read an 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."

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Table of Contents

Tears 1
Part 1 I Was Almost Fast Enough 3
Part 2 Finding Wings 69
Part 3 Where Could I Come to Rest? 207
Amber 235
Postscript 237
Polish: A Rough Guide to Pronunciation 239
German: A Rough Guide to Pronunciation 241
Some Historical Background 243
A Note on the Writing of This Book 247
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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.

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1. In the first pages of the memoir we are introduced to the Black Madonna of Czestochowa at the shrine of Jasna Gora, and Irene recounts that she prayed to God to get her through particularly difficult or lonely times. What role does religion play in Irene's story? Does religion sustain her or fail her in her times of need? As she watches the last trucks full of Jews drive away from the Ternopol ghetto she says, "I tried to pray, but the words in my head did not fit together in the right order. I wanted to say 'Holy Father,' but I could not. I thought He must have gone far away, taking His name with Him" [p. 147]. Does her faith waiver at other times? How do the different clergymen that Irene encounters strengthen or weaken her resolve?

2. Irene's father assures Irene during their brief reunion by telling her, "God has plans for you. He did not let you die" [p. 74]. Yet later, Irene explains, "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" [p. 126]. And, finally, in her epilogue she tells us, "Yes, it was me, a girl, with nothing but my free will clutched in my hand like an amber bead. God gave me this free will for my treasure. I can say this now. I understand this now. The war was a series of choices made by many people" [p. 234]. Were Irene's actions predestined or the result of her free will? How is free will an important theme in understanding the Holocaust overall?

3. How much of Irene's success is based on sheer luck and how much on quick thinking? Forexample, she easily escapes the Russian commissar [p. 63], she finds the vent in the major's bathroom to hide the Jews before moving them to the major's villa [p. 150], and she escapes through the prison window in Krakow [p. 224].

4. From the first chapter when we meet Bociek, the stork that Irene and her sisters care for, different images of birds permeate Irene's memoir. References to birds or bird images appear at least seven more times in the memoir in different contexts [pp. 68, 80, 104, 133, 142, 215, 234]. How are these images symbolic of Irene? What else do the birds represent? What is the significance of the moments in Irene's story when bird imagery is used? How does the bird motif characterize the style Jennifer Armstrong uses in telling Irene's story?

5. Irene tells us, "Sometimes, when I thought of the amount of hatred dwelling in Poland, I was surprised to see that the grass was still green, that the trees still flourished their leaves against a blue sky. . . . The birds can hop from one branch to another, tipping their heads and honing their small beaks against the bark while a child dies in the mud below" [pp. 99<ETH>100]. How is nature portrayed in In My Hands? How does Irene perceive man's relationship with nature and the land during the war? How is the land of Poland simultaneously a force for man to reckon with, as in the cruel cold of Polish winters, and a symbol of hope, as in the flowers of Poland heralding the arrival of spring?

6. So many questions remain at the end of the memoir, and the pictorials raise questions about Irene's life after Poland: What was her courtship and marriage like? What were her sisters' lives like after the war? Did she ever communicate with Eduard R?gemer again? Why did her sisters and her Jewish friends decide to remain in Europe? Why does the author choose to end Irene's memoir where she does and leave these and other questions unanswered?

7. In significant passages, Irene recalls the manifestation of German anti-Semitism in Poland. She writes of her home town: And in some shops not many, but some there were signs saying, "Don't Buy from Jews!" or "A Poland Free from Jews Is a Free Poland." This mystified me. In my home, there had never been any distinction made between people. . . . We did not imagine where it would lead. How could we? To us, Germany had always been a seat of civilization, the home of poets and musicians, philosophers and scientists. We believed it was a rational, cultured country. How could we know that the Germans did not feel the same about us? How could we know the depth of their scorn for us? Despite our centuries of glorious achievements, despite our Chopins and our Copernicuses, our cathedrals and our heroes and our horses—despite all this, Germany viewed Poland as a land of Slavic brutes, fit only for labor. And so Hitler wanted to destroy us [pp. 17<ETH>18].

It was now impossible not to understand what Hitler's plans for the Jews were. . . . Janina and I would recall Jewish friends from our girlhood. . . . It seemed to us . . . that if our childhood friends could be considered enemies, what was to keep us from the same fate? Weren't we all the same? Hitler would finish the Jews, ghetto by ghetto, and then turn his full attention to the rest of us Poles [p. 98].

In both of these passages, Irene begins by discussing anti-Semitic acts and ends with fear of what such German behavior might mean to Poland and the Poles. From Irene's point of view, how did these anti-Semitic actions and sentiments differ from anti-Polish actions and sentiments?

8. Except for the incidental German women echoing the anti-Semitism of their Nazi soldier boyfriends, all of the perpetrators of evil in Irene's wartime experience are men. How are Irene's actions made possible by the fact that she is a woman? How might a man read her memoirs differently than a woman?

9. In Irene's memoirs she juxtaposes the major's decentness against Rokita's iciness [pp. 134<ETH>135]. Yet, after he elicits sex from her in exchange for protecting her secret she reflects, "I wondered how the major's honor would allow him to make such a bargain. I had always felt that behind the uniform was a decent man. I had never seen him do anything cruel or rash. . . ." [p. 191]. Is the major a sympathetic person? What are Irene's feelings toward Major R?gemer? Are the major's actions toward Irene"justified," or is Irene rationalizing? While Irene had clearly realized his feelings for her before this fateful moment and, more and more, had exploited them [pp. 113, 123, 142, 164], was the major's demand in fact inevitable?

10. Equally complex is Irene's opinion of the average German, as epitomized by Herr Schulz. On one hand, he is a "good, friendly man" and "had none of the ferocity and malevolence that [Irene] had come to expect of the Germans" [p. 88]. But she also admits, "As good and kind as he was, he was a German, and I could not reconcile those two things in my mind" [p. 93], and "He made hating the Germans a complex matter, when it should have been such a straightforward one" [p. 119]. Is Herr Schulz's behavior understandable? Excusable?

11. Is it possible that Dr. David and Dr. Miriam are Jewish, as their names would indicate? Was the "Rachel Meyer," whom Irene poses as in Kiev, supposed to be Jewish? If so, why would Irene not explicitly note this irony? After the war, when Irene is in the repatriation camp posing as a Jew, she notes twice, "I fooled myself that I belonged" [p. 231]. And, after three years, the village still "did not feel like home" [p. 232]. Why might Irene have felt this way?

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Reading Group Guide

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?

3. “I did not ask myself, Should I do this? But, How will I do this? Every step of my childhood had brought me to this cross-road; I must take the right path, or I would no longer be myself.” How does Irene grow into her role as a rescuer? What is her first small step? How does she gradually increase the risks she takes? What skills does she acquire that help her succeed? How does her telling her story now relate to her resistance during the war?

4. “How could I presume to be their savior? And yet I had promised. I had to do it.” What motivates Irene to take such incredible risks? Is it her religious belief? Her upbringing? Her anger at the cruelty all around her? Does she truly consider the alternatives–does she think it possible not to help?

5. Throughout the war, and for many years after, Irene is separated from her family—first by circumstance, but later as a direct result of having helped her friends. When does this separation weigh on her the most heavily? In what ways do the people whom she has helped become her family? Many years after the war, Irene meets Roman Haller–the child of two of the people she hid. How might he be considered a closer relative than her own nieces and nephews?

6. Discuss how being female affects Irene throughout the war. She often refers to herself as “only a girl.” For example: “I was only a girl, alone among the enemy. What could I do?” Yet a page later she says, “I was only a girl, nobody paid much attention to me.” What are some other advantages and disadvantages of her being “only a girl”? How do you think she views this status in the end?

7. Early in the story, Irene is raped, beaten, and left for dead by Russian soldiers. How does this change her feelings about herself? Her feelings about men?

8. Later in the story, Major Rügemer agrees that he will not turn the Jews hidden in his basement over to the Gestapo if Irene will become his mistress. She describes this relationship as “worse than rape.” In what ways is it worse? Does she believe she has any choice? What does she imagine the people she is hiding would want her to do?

9. 1.Irene often contrasts the major’s decent behavior with Rokita’s cruelty. But after the major forces her into a sexual relationship, she feels confused. “I wondered how the major’s honor would allow him to make such a bargain. I had always felt that behind the uniform was a decent man. I had never seen him do anything cruel or rash. . . .” Does Irene realize the full extent of the major’s feelings for her? How does she use his affection to her advantage? Is his eventual exploitation of her inevitable, as she implies?

10. What are Major Rügemer’s feelings for Irene? He both protects her and does her harm–how would you assess his behavior as a whole? Why does he take Irene to visit her “cousin”? When he leaves Irene alone at the hotel, do you think he knows that she will run from him? Do you find his actions forgivable? Is it possible to feel sympathy for him? Does Irene forgive him? What happens to him at the end of the war?

11. How would you contrast the major’s behavior with that of Herr Schulz? Irene calls him a “good, friendly man” and admits “he made hating the Germans a complex matter, when it should have been such a straightforward one.” Why does Irene suspect that he knows what she is doing? How much is he willing to help? Is Herr Schulz’s behavior understandable? Excusable? Laudable?

12. Irene faces the threats of torture and imprisonment in Siberia. She is raped by a Russian soldier, blackmailed by a German officer, and separated for years from her family. She knows that the fate of her Jewish friends is in her hands. What does she risk to help? What is her biggest sacrifice?

13. When the Jews whom Irene has been hiding escape into the forest, she is unsure what to do next. She explains: “Shouldn’t I have been happy? But I was oddly dejected, because my great and righteous undertaking was finished.” Then, on the very next page, she says she has found her calling. She throws herself into fighting for Poland by joining the resistance. After the war, does she continue her efforts? If so, how?

14. Irene often goes to church and confession. Does religion sustain her or fail her in her times of need? Discuss the different clergymen she encounters. How does she cope with their conflicting advice and admonitions?

15. Does Irene’s faith ever waver? Does she question God? At what point in the story? She ends her memoir with the words “Go with God.” How does she hold on to her belief in God when she has witnessed so much suffering and cruelty?

16. The book is framed by the sections “Tears” and “Amber.” How are these two pieces related? How do they reflect Irene’s growth from the beginning of the war to the end? How has the meaning of amber shifted by the end of the memoir?

17. Irene often says that she had no choice but to act as she did and that God put her in the right place to act. But in her epilogue she tells us, “God gave me this free will for my treasure. I can say this now. I understand this now. The war was a series of choices made by many people.” Were Irene’s actions predestined or the result of her free will? How is free will an important idea in understanding the Holocaust?

18. Images of birds permeate Irene’s memoir. Discuss what all these different birds might mean. Sparrows, hens, storks, pigeons . . . do any of these symbolize Irene? What else do the birds represent?

19. On the very first page of Irene’s story, an image of a bird represents a horrible scene she witnessed during the war: “There was a bird flushed up from the wheat fields, disappearing in a blur of wings against the sun, and then a gunshot and it fell to the earth. But it was not a bird. It was not a bird, and it was not in the wheat field, but you can’t understand what it was yet.” What does she need to make the reader understand? Why do you think she begins and ends her story with a reference to this incident?

20. The real scene represented by this image is one of the most indelible in the book: a soldier viciously throws a baby into the air and shoots it. The people Irene is with when she sees this happen turn away from the horror, but Irene continues to look. Why does she watch?

21. Irene and her companions do not discuss what they have seen, but keep the secret until they “could bring it out, and show it to others, and say, ‘Behold. This is the worst thing man can do.’” How does Irene “show it to others” and what does she hope to accomplish by doing so?

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 39 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2008

    Close and personal story

    I read this book when I begin to be interested in World War II and this close, personal story puts you there in the action. It is unforgivingly real and true to this woman's story and life. If you have read Anne Frank, you will want to read this more mature, yet heart-breakingly similiar memoir of life in the face of absolute hatred.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2013

         Imagine living with the image in your mind everyday of seei

         Imagine living with the image in your mind everyday of seeing an infant whipped into the air and shot. Imagine witnessing struggling, 
    famished laborers being worked to death before your very eyes. While all this is going on, imagine you are working in a kitchen, feeding 
    officers large feasts for every meal and watch them waste tons of food while there are young children just a mile away starving. All you can
    do is stand and watch. If you try to interfere, you are sentenced to imminent death. 
    The autobiography In My Hands tell the horrible life story of Irene Gut Opdyke as a Holocaust rescuer. That is exactly how her life 
    was. She was surrounded by horror and agony, and she was told she could do nothing. In her autobiography, she tells about escaping 
    from the Red Army, being taken prisoner and forced to work for the Nazis party, escaping and working with the Polish resistance and all 
    throughout her journey, rescuing many Jewish prisoners escape to freedom. Throughout the book, you are following her emotional 
    roller-coaster. One minute she is free and happy living with her sisters and family and the next, her family is ripped away from her, and
     they are forced to work in caves and her living conditions are horrible.
    I found this book to be eye opening, inspirational, interesting, and all around an amazing read. It ties in aspects of action, drama, 
    war, struggle, history, triumph, and selflessness. This book is perfect for those who have a passion for the Holocaust and World War II, 
    but also people who like books about rebellion, and it is overall a great book to teach people to do what is right, even though the 
    consequences may be alarming and dangerous. That is what Irene did. She knew it was extraordinarily dangerous to help Jewish
    prisoners but she did it anyway. She went against the law, risking her life, just to save the lives of innocent people. 
    This book is a bit graphic so it might not be the best idea to read for young people, but is perfect for anyone around the age of a high 
    schooler or older. It is a wonderful life lesson for all groups of people and it is important to learn about the past and learn lessons from 
    the tragedies of the past and this is a wonderful and truly beneficial book to anyone who reads.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Extremely good!

    I have read many books and have a long list of favorites but this book will be in the top 5 and Irene's story will stay with me forever. I read this book in 3 days and when I was not reading it I was thinking about it and what it must have been like to live during WWII and the Holocaust. I tried to picture myself walking in Irene's shoes or being one of the Jews that was sent to a camp or being a German who had Jewish neighbors. How would I have handled it all? How would I have acted? Would I have been brave and stong like Irene or would I have been scrared and looked away? I highly recommend this book. It is a wonderful and good story of a beautiful, stong and caring person & I wish I could have known Irene.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2014

    In My Hands  is the  memoir by Irene Gut Opdyke. What I like the

    In My Hands  is the  memoir by Irene Gut Opdyke. What I like the about this memoir is the change in plotlines. First she’s a girl trying to become a nurse; then she is a rescuer of Jews. Next she a part of a partisan group then a housekeeper of a German officer. Another part of the story that I like is the excitement. At moments where she is almost caught hiding Jews or escaping a Soviet prison, it is constant excitement. But it did have its downside. The author went too much into detail about killings. The memoir is a great book, and I would strongly recommend others to read this book.  

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2014

    In my Hands is a book you can¿t put down! It¿s a type of book t

    In my Hands is a book you can’t put down! It’s a type of book that you won’t be able to stop reading after you have picked it up. It’s full of action, suspense, and can make you want to cry at some point. It’s a book where when you have to stop reading, you will question yourself about what happens next! When I picked up the book at first I thought it was kind of boring, since nothing was really happening, but I’m glad I kept reading! In my Hands is a real page turner!

    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.

    This is an outstanding and fascinating book to read! However, I would not recommend this book for anyone under the age of 14. Many horrible things happen to this young woman, and can be very descriptive on how it happened also. If you were to read this book, I think you need to be mature enough, to realize what horrible things had happened to her. My examples, when she was helping injured ones when a bomb went off, two Nazi soldiers came and brutally beaten and then raped her. Another example would be, Major Rugemor found out that she was hiding the Jews in his house, so he said he would keep the secret if she would become his mistress.

    This was a real page turner! If it were turned into a movie, it would be an edge of the seat type of movie! If you get a chance to read this, don’t miss a great opportunity!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2014

    My Book Review Book title and author:  In my Hands   Memories of

    My Book Review
    Book title and author: 
    In my Hands   Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke with Jennifer Armstrong
    Title of review: The Savoir for Jews
    Number of stars (1 to 5): 4

    Have you ever read this book? This book was a very hard to understand book for me, but if you are smart them it will be perfect for you. The main idea was that there was this girl named Irene Gut and she lived in Kozience. She had a bad start when the war started by she was polish and could not speak German.  She started working for a person that taught German and would teach her. Irene was blond hair and blue eyes and spoke German.  Irene helps Jews and tries giving them food. In the review I will tell you about the theme, plot, style, and much more.

    Description and summary of content
    The author was Irene Gut Opdyke she was the girl that tried helping the Jews.  After the war she had started to tell about what she had seen and what she was trying to do to help the Jews.  She would watch babies being thrown in the air and shot at like who can get the baby’s head shot. She had to watch some important people in her life get taken away to go in concentration camps. 

    The main characters in the story are Irene Gut, her mother, her father, soldiers that took Irene, the workers that helped Irene. The plot over the story is how this girl named Irene Gut tried helping the Jews by getting them food out the window and because she has blue eyes and blond hair, also could speak German, but she was polish. Some quotations are “This could happen to you!” That is what the guard would tell the Jews when they beat one to death for breaking the rules. The setting over this story is in Germany and in Svetlana, but Irene moved everywhere from work with Major Rugermer. The theme of the story is even though she is not a German; she still tried helping people by costing her life on the line. The style of the story is when Irene is crazy by helping Jews when she barely passed as a German.

    conclusion In this review I told you about all those things and many more. This girl named Irene is a wonderful person and a savior to the Jews. People could have died over things that Irene did to try to save them. She put people lives in danger by helping them.  She was really nice to try and help the Jews. Although she could not be able to get food she tried her best on giving food away by tossing it out of a window for the camps to get the food. Almost everyone who is smart and will understand the book should read it, I should not cause it is a little out of my vocabulary by having large words.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2013

                   The book In My hands: Memories of a Holocaust Res

             The book In My hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut is an inspirational book to many readers. This book takes place during the era of the Holocaust. Irene 
    is a 17 year old girl, and her country is split between two nations: Germany and Russia. Irene is now on the run for survival. in some 
    situations she can pass for a Russian with her blonde hair and blue eyes and in others, trouble is calling her name. Irene faced a lot of 
    situations in her book that make you thankful for our world today. Ms. Gut never gives up on her country or on her family throughout the 
    book. She struggles throughout the Holocaust trying to help Jews escape the wrath of Adolf Hitler, and there may be a couple of loops she has to jump through to get to the other side, but never does she quit , never does she stop hoping that one day things will be okay for her family and her country. Throughout this book there is a lot of suspense that builds up because you keep wondering what will happen next. 

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  • Posted December 31, 2012

    Beautiful story from outside of the concentration and death camp

    Beautiful story from outside of the concentration and death camps.  An inspiration to everyone - I can only hope that I would be as loving, brave, and selfless as Irene if push came to shove.  We should all hope to be like her.

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  • Posted September 12, 2012

    Inspiring!! Thats the word i use to describe this sensational bo

    Inspiring!! Thats the word i use to describe this sensational book. The story of Irene Gut Opdyke is amazing, a young polish girl in 1939 who has been training to be a nurse when at 16 has her country is invaded by russians and germans. She is then forced to work for the german army ( but defined them in every way). She works there for a while and then while working in the laundry room in the NAZI barracks, she began to save hundreds of lives by warning jews in the turnpool ghetto about raids and smugling food and supplies to jews hiding in the polish forest. She then becomes housekeeper in a german majors house and smuggles 12 jews into his basement secretly . After nearly a year of hiding them the major finds out and in the reward for silence he asks her to be his mistress. After months of this the germansbegin to loose ground and she helps the jews escape into the woods. When the Germans were driven from Poland, the Russians remained and Irene continued to help the people she could she joined a group of partisan saboteurs and soon found herself on the Russian Red Army's Most Wanted list. In an ironic way she was herself hidden by the same Jews she had hidden in the German Major's basement. At age 26 she goes to new york to begin a new life. 5 years later she sees a man she was interviewd by, WilliamOpdyke, who had interviewed her in a Jewish repatriation camp. Six weeks later they were married. it wasn't until years later when people started calling the holocaust a hoax that she felt the need to share her story.
    &quot;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.&quot;
    -- Irene Gut Opdyke

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2012

    A thrilling and unique read that I loved every minute of. I had

    A thrilling and unique read that I loved every minute of. I had a very hard time putting this book down. This true story is about a young woman, Irene, who starts out as a nurse in Poland at the beginning of World War II. As the war progresses, she is separated from her family, and took to other countries to work in hospitals. Eventually she gets away from her nursing job, and gets a job as a waitress serving food to German officers. The dining hall is right across the street from the Ghetto, where hundreds of Jews are being held. Irene overhears the German officers’ conversations about the war, and what they are going to do with the Jews in the Ghetto. Irene’s mindset is completely opposite of keeping herself safe and letting the Jews be killed. With bravery and perseverance, Irene figures out a way to hide seven Jews and keep them from being killed in the Ghetto. How she gets them out and where she hides them next is for you to find out by reading this book. I would strongly recommend this memoir because he suspense level is off the charts. Irene goes through several life threatening situations that most people don’t even go through once in their lifetime. This type of excitement is extremely fun and entertaining to read. I would also recommend this book because you can learn a ton about what life was like in Europe during World War II. You can also learn that sitting back and keeping yourself safe is the wrong thing to do. You need to go out, take chances, and try to change something. Irene Gut Opdyke single handedly changed the course of history by doing this. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I have a single dislike about this book. I enjoyed reading every page. I would strongly recommend this remarkable memoir to anyone. -Jordan Harnum

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  • Posted September 10, 2012

    It was heartbreaking yet perspective changing. The novel discuss

    It was heartbreaking yet perspective changing. The novel discusses Irene’s journey and experiences throughout and of the holocaust. She provides insight into how it affected her as a Polish native instead of a Jew and how it led to her hiding, protecting, and trying to save Jews. Major themes include suspense with her escapes, survival in many different places, love of people and wanting what’s best for them, and selflessness as she sacrificed her life to do the right thing by saving people and putting others first. All these themes contribute to major overall messages of what is right verses what is easy, and finding good among what seems to be all bad. The things I liked most were that the author, Irene, wasn’t afraid to provide vivid detail in tragic situations even though the recollections may have been difficult she wanted the reader to feel every amount of emotion possible. Also I liked how there was a happy ending and she didn’t leave any loose ends; she resolved and explained everything in the end. People should read this novel because it provides a closer look into someone’s perspective of what it was like to help Jews during the holocaust and being faced with the responsibility of having people’s lives in your hands.

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  • Posted September 9, 2012

    Great read about how Poland was during World War II! In My Hand

    Great read about how Poland was during World War II!

    In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer was one of the most eye opening books that I have read in a while. This story tells about a 17 year old Polish girl who survived World War II. She survived the war hearing about her country having no more military, getting abused by the Russians, running away from them only to get captured by the Germans who tried to work her to death and loss of a fiancé. All throughout her travels Irene helped people by giving first aid when they’re were sick, smuggling food to Jews in a ghetto or trying to save 12 Jews and keep them safe during the war. This book had many messages and themes that I noticed while reading this book. The two biggest are never give up and help people whenever you can. Throughout Irene’s story she never gave up and helped everyone who needed it. She proved that no matter who you are and where you live people need to help others for the sake of humanity and to do that you should never give up and continue fighting no matter how much you don’t want to! I liked how this book was written, as if the reader was there watching over Irene’s back; when she was doing the acts of smuggling food and people or just running away from the Russians who would hurt her. I felt the same feelings which Irene felt like the stress of keeping a deadly secret and the fear of getting caught. I didn’t like how there were no details of how Poland looked after the war and how the people felt. It left me with many questions of what happened after the war and how was Poland going to move on after what just happened to it and its people. I think this book should be read by everyone because it is such an eye opening book which tells about a different side of World War II which many people don’t really know about. In addition it is written in a way that makes the reader feel like they are part of Irene’s story. I would also like to recommend Night by Elie Wiesel because it is another account of the Holocaust and about the people who were in it. Overall I would rate this book 5 out of 5 stars because this book was just mindboggling.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2012

    In My Hands is an inspiring, brave, and haunting story of a youn

    In My Hands is an inspiring, brave, and haunting story of a young girl, Irene Gut, and her courageous actions during the Holocaust. The book goes throughout the course of the war and Irene leads a life separated from her family while the plot is constantly changing and thickening, sometimes better and sometimes worse. Irene is constantly helping people, especially the Jews wherever she goes. She does anything from hiding small amounts of food in a box and sliding it under a fence all the way up to hiding 12 Jews in the house of a German general. The entire book demonstrates selfless acts and extreme courage in doing what’s right. At one point Irene states that she would rather die for a sheep instead of a lamb, everything she does is to impact more and do the most she can. The main message of her life is clearly to help people and help them as much as possible. It displays such great characteristics and in such a grabbing story. It gets started with action and suspension very quickly in the book and is packed with it for the most part. There is constant feel of excitement and terror with every action she does which makes the book impossible to put down. The only time the book lacks in this is toward the end, after the war has ended. There is a major shift in the book in the tone and mood. There is a feeling of rushing through events without detail and almost trying to finish it off as quickly as possible. I lost a lot of interest in the book at this point because of the tone and blur throughout the events leading to the end. But overall, this is an inspirational and incredible life to hear about and i adored it. I would suggest this book to anybody and everybody whether they are interested in the Holocaust or not. It was a truly life changing and memorable book which causes you to really appreciate the country you live in now.

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  • Posted September 9, 2012

    An amazing read! A little disturbing but amazing! I would highly

    An amazing read! A little disturbing but amazing! I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for an exciting adventure that also incorporates the gruesome but interesting history of World War Two. This story is about a young Polish girl who loses everything she held dear to her but still comes out of the war stronger than she was before. The main character is Irene, who smuggles Jews and keeps as many as she can safe throughout the course of the war. Irene acts as a double agent. This book’s main theme is great strength. Irene proves that anyone can do anything they put their minds to. I loved Irene’s character and the adventure she went through. I didn’t like the gruesome and disturbing details of the book. However, I think they were necessary to this book. The author created an amazing read by incorporating the horrifying details of the book with the amazing attributes and successes of Irene. One may not enjoy this book if they are disturbed by gory details. I would also recommend the book Night by Eli Wiesel. I would rate this book a 7out of 10. Very good read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Inspirational & Heartfelt! Inspirational and heartfelt are

    Inspirational &amp; Heartfelt!

    Inspirational and heartfelt are two words I would use to describe In My Hands. In My Hands is a great read for anybody willing to listen to Irene’s touching and inspirational story. Irene Gut was just 17 when WWII started. She took pride in her country, Poland, and morals of her church. Irene rescued many lives of those who were Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Despite what ever was going on in her life she put others first and always did whatever she could to help them. She was faced with many hardships and terrors that she persevered through, for this I admire her greatly. The book really shows a perspective of a passionate and hardworking young woman, willing to put her own life I jeopardy for those of others. One reason I really liked this novel, is not just the historical context of it but the emotion and passion she put into telling her story. I really enjoyed that she wears many masks throughout this novel, all showing courage, bravery, passion, dedication and heroism. I would recommend this book for teens and adults, just because of some of the maturity and language. The only thing I disliked about this book was the slow start, but once you got into a little more it was phenomenal. I would definitely recommend In My Hands to a friend or anybody, because its overall message is just wonderful. It really gets you to think about, if you were in her place, would you do the same. It also allows you to be very appreciative of your life and your country.

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  • Posted September 7, 2012

    This book was a sensational read, I am not too fond of reading

    This book was a sensational read, I am not too fond of reading but this book pulled me in and i was interested from the first to last page. The story line is extremely eventful and is played out miraculously! Irene Gut (The main character) goes through the most tragic time of her life during the Holocaust. The author and Irene teach you that not only Jews were affected by Hitler. That time was tremendously painful for many innocent, helpless families and Irene’s story shows you how her family made it through the years and fought without giving up. I really liked how the book was planned out, the events made sense and having one of the Authors be who the story is about, really helps because it is her own words. There is nothing I can think of that I didn’t like this book. The message In My Hands sent me was that The Holocaust and other wars/tragedies like that are extremely devastating and make me a lot more thankful for my life. This book also taught me that all kinds of religions were affected n the Holocaust. Again, it was very eye opening and interesting to read. Because I am Jewish and my family is from Poland, it was very easy to relate to this book. I really feel for Irene and her family and because of this book I feel even more aware and thankful of what I have in my life and the religion I am blessed with. People of all ages should read this book because of how eye opening and interesting it is. It would touch anyone’s heart and really show you how awful the Holocaust really was. My overall rating of this book is definitely 5 stars. It kept me interested the whole time, it never had a dull moment. This book made me feel a lot more connected to my religion and really made me feel for the poor people effected by the Holocaust. I would seriously consider reading In My Hands.

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  • Posted September 6, 2012

    This book was inspirational! Irene Gut was separated from her fa

    This book was inspirational! Irene Gut was separated from her family when Germany and Russia took over Poland, faced hardships, found her family, was separated from all but her oldest sister, and then started her real mission. What started as throwing some bread into a Jewish Ghetto, quickly escalated to risking her life to save 16 Jews. I could not put this book down! It was amazing to see how one person could do so much. 5 out of 5! I recommend The Boy in Striped Pajamas and My Brothers Voice as well.

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  • Posted June 29, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    I could not put this book down once I began reading it. The stor

    I could not put this book down once I began reading it. The story is touching and describes the willingness of some people to save the Jews. You won't regret reading this book. It will make you take a step back and realize just how blessed you are. I hope nothing like the Holocaust ever happens again. This book describes life in a camp from the perspective of someone other than a laborer. Buy and READ!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2011


    In My Hands was a breathtaking novel about the survival of a 17 year old girl, named Irene, during the holocaust. When her country of Poland was suddenly taken over from both the Germans and the Russians, she is captured and raped. Even after that horrible experience of being a victim, she turns her world around by slowly fighting back and becoming a rescuer.
    I loved this book because there were many emotional tolls in it, but it teaches you about the deeper meaning of life and helps you to grasp the idea of survival that we usually don't need to think about. It has many theories and concepts that will change your life for the better. There are many places, where she almost gets caught smuggling Jews into the woods, but in the end she gets them to safety. I recommend this book for all to read because you get an emotional connection with Irene.not all books have that. Even though she went through different things, it's still very easy to relate to her. All I can say is that I read the book, changed my life, and it will do the same for you.

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  • Posted September 12, 2011

    Heartbreaking and Inspirational

    In My Hands by Irene Gut Opdyke was an informational masterpiece! The book takes you through Irene's personal World War II experience as a native polish, and a student nurse. At only 17 she faces the emotional toll of separation from her family and friends along with getting torn away from her home town, however she also gains connections to friends that lasted a lifetime. She begins as a student nurse but finds herself as part of the polish army and later working as a server in several German hotels and restaurants, along with being a house keeper for a German soldier. Throughout her work she manages to save the lives of several Jewish friends as well as keep herself healthy and safe. Her life saving actions began as just small gestures but resulted in her risking her own life to save others. By the end of the war she has nothing but an amazing, heartbreaking story to tell. Her story contains everything from love and relationships to heartbreaking history. She experiences the stripping of her innocence, and the realization of the world around her and the life she was forced to have. She descriptively tells the story of the severity of the holocaust including the way the Jewish and others suffered. She describes her experience while also describing different conditions some had to live through during those years. The journey she takes you on is remarkable, and the stories she tells about the friends she makes and the hardships she survived are inspirational. She really takes you back to they 1940's and makes you feel like you are separated from your family, your home town, and your innocence. Their wasn't anything dull or slow throughout the entire story. Every piece is lovable and inspirational. As soon as you pick up this book you wont put it down, it was a 10!

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