Veronica Cepellos's Reviews > In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer

In My Hands by Irene Gut Opdyke
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's review
Jun 14, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: history, memoir-autobiography-biography, skool, hurts-so-good
Recommended to Veronica by: Janina Opdyke-Smith
Recommended for: readers interested in the Holocaust, in stories of triumph and perseverence and goodwill.
Read in June, 2009 — I own a copy , read count: 1.5

Kurt Vonnegut has defined a saint as a person "who behave[s:] decently in a strikingly indecent society." By his definition, Irene Gut Opdyke is a saint. I think there are more than a few people who would agree.

I had the pleasure of seeing an adaptation of this on Broadway, and got incredibly lucky: the author's daughter was in the house that night and hosted a Q&A session after the show. It was during this session that she revealed a few remarkable stories the book doesn't touch on...

As regards Major Rugemer: The book mentions that upon his return to his hometown, his wife (having heard of his indiscretions) wanted nothing to do with him, and neither did the town (having heard rumors of his being a Jew sympathizer). He lived on the streets, homeless and outcast, until the Hallers heard of his condition and took him in. He lived with them until his death. (I consider this show of kindness in the face of the preceding circumstances a testament to the power of goodness and forgiveness, and absolutely breathtaking.)

As regards Irene finally speaking out about her story: Her daughter, Janina knew nothing of her mother's experiences until her teenage years, when they received a phone call from an individual claiming to be "randomly" polling people to find out if they thought the Holocaust actually happened or if they believed it was a ploy on the part of the Jews to gain sympathy. It was at this point that Irene broke her silence and related her story. As a witness, she realized she had to speak out, to testify to what she had seen and experienced so that she could erase some of that ignorance, that doubt, that blindness that so many in the population desperately cling to. Also, she felt the overwhelming messages of the power of love and forgiveness and hope were worth sharing.

As regards Irene being reconnected with her sisters: I do not believe in coincidence. Things happen when they do for a reason. It so happens that a Polish couple that had gone to see the show were going to be traveling to Poland and offered to try to find Irene's sisters for her. She gave the couple her sisters' names, but did not hope for much, as they had all been single last she had seen them and had probably remarried, taken on new names, and would be impossible to find. She promptly forgot about the couple and their task. The couple traveled to Poland and checked with the Embassy, the Consulate, everyone and everywhere, to no avail. Then, on their way to the airport, they stopped at a corner store to buy snacks for the flight, and on a whim asked the proprietor if he knew any of the women on the list. He apologized that no, he did not, but just then a woman came rushing out from the back room - let me see that list! Yes! These names... these are my sisters! And this one is me! Information was exchanged, and after nearly forty years, Irene was reunited with her family. Karmic justice is breathtaking.

This was a profoundly moving work that I think could raise a lot of compelling issues, and one I would like to expose my kids to (and think they would enjoy!).
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