Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke (with Jennifer Armstrong)

Chapters 1-3:
Before anything else I would just like to say that I am really emotional when it comes to WWII and the Holocaust, especially when it relates to Poland. Since I am 100% Polish I feel I have a direct connection to what happened there in the years 1939-1945. I would like to apologize in advance for intense reactions.
It doesn't seem possible for how suddenly the war started. One second Irene was strolling down the street; the next she was taking a train with injured soldiers to Russia. The chapter was called "Lightning War" and with good reason. Everything happened so quickly.
When someone reads or watches a fictional story, even if it's unbearably frightening or horrid, he or she can just say to himself/herself, "It's just a story. None of this actually happened. There is nothing to worry about." You can't say that with this story. It was real and the person actually writing the novel saw it all happen. A 17 year old student nurse saw blood and gore along the streets of her school town. She had no idea where her family was or how they were doing and with no way to contact them. A 17 year old. That would be two years older than I am now. It is unbelievable, yet 100% true.
I have a feeling that this may become one of my favorite books of all time.
"I could not catch my breath even to scream." This quote from the book really made me realize how scared she was. I even underlined that sentence in my copy of the book.
I absolutely love the title of every single chapter. they fit so perfectly.
I'm only three chapters in, but I feel like this is the most emotional, graphic, and brilliant book I have read in my life.

Chapters 4-6:
Irene was only seventeen/eighteen when all this was happening to her. She was on the move every year or so. I can't even begin to imagine what it was all like for her. Where I left off she was on her way to find her family.
I really liked the characters Dr. David and Miriam. It was reassuring to know that even in such troubled times, there were still good people.
I wonder if her family will be alright. I hope Irene will reunite with them safely.
I am still having trouble grasping the fact that this all actually happened. I know it did but it is still unbelievable that some people can be so cruel.
That's just one concept I never fully understood. How can people kill one another without another thought? Without a shingle of a doubt.
War disgusts me so much. We are all people and we only have one place to live, Earth. So don't destroy it.

Chapters 7+8:
I just finished part one.
All Irene wanted was to find her family. And it took her two years to do that. She was held captive multiple times. It is a miracle how she survived all those times and all the times to come.
The thing I like most about this book is that it's an autobiography. Irene did everything that she said. She probably did not exaggerate either.
In this story I noticed that the most important quality for someone to have would be loyalty. Irene showed such courage and loyalty by not giving up Dr. David's and Miriam's names every time she was held captive.
I almost cried at the end when she finally saw her little sister. I was so happy for her. I only wonder what other horrible adventures await her.

Chapters 9-12:
I think I have finally reached the rising action of the story. After all, this book is about a Holocaust rescuer! We need some recusing to happen for it to be that type of story.
When Irene saw what the SS officer did to the Jews in the ghetto through the window, I think something snapped in her. After that she changed as a person. She started thinking about people, other than her family and herself.
She started putting food under the fence for the Jews. She has watched so many terrible things happens.
This story is starting to get extremely interesting (not that it wasn't before, but I feel like the plot is starting to brew).
I didn't understand this line: "But it was not a bird. It was not a bird. It was not a bird."
I understand that the repetition was used for an effect. However, I'm not sure what the effect was. If it wasn't a bird, then what was it?

Chapters 13 +14:
I absolutely loved her dream about her picking wheat. It was a good metaphor for what she was doing for the Jews. This was the most meaningful sentence from it, I thought: "I picked faster, grabbing up spilled grain by the handful, my nails caked with mud and my loaded apron tugging at my waist until I thought it would drag me down and bury me in the dirt."
I saw this phrase as meaning that she was trying to save everyone, but in doing so she would/might get hurt in the process. Or that she may have to pay for it with her life. However, I know for a fact she doesn't because she wrote this book! That's always an encouraging thought while reading this horrid book, is knowing no matter what, Irene will stay alive.
I was flabbergasted at the part where Irene went to go find Fanka. A young lady only about the age of 20, went on a mission in the middle of WWII to find a friend. The qualities needed for such a journey would be: dedication, courage and loyalty. One would need so much courage to do what she said. I am utterly impressed.
Everyday people read and write fiction stories about superheroes who can fly or have super strength. What people don't realize is that we have superheroes in real life. They may not fly but they have super courage. Off the top of my head I can think of firefighters, policemen and women, and people like Irene.
Irene was just a regular person with the human quality of wanting to help. So she did. Most people ignore that part of their human nature or get too frightened to follow it. Irene wasn't one of those people, no matter what it cost her.

Chapters 15-17:
Irene just never stops, does she? It's brilliant. She smuggled six people into a forest without anyone realizing at all. Now I'm sure she will hide her friends from the laundry room in the basement of the major's villa. I am excited to see how she will accomplish this task.
The only thing that I don't like about this book is how Irene writes sometimes. Her metaphors are absolutely gorgeous. However, sometimes she writes words in Polish or German and she won't translate them. For example, "'Danke schon, Irene'" is something the major says to Irene in chapter 17. However, Irene didn't say what it meant. I tried using context clues to figure it out but I couldn't come up with an exact definition. What this book needs to be even better would be footnotes. That way Irene doesn't have to change anything in her writing.and the reader can understand what she is saying when she writes in a different language.

Chapters 18-21
I am still extremely amazed at everything Irene is doing.
She hid six people in the vent in the commanding officer's bathroom. Now she is hiding ten right under his feet!
I wish I had as much courage and determination as Irene. She's such a wonderful role model for everyone.
Will the major come home early one night and discover her friends? Or will they go forever undiscovered until the end of the war? After the war, will Irene find her family? Will they all the alive and well? Irene is lonely now but will she find someone soon to keep her company? To fall in love with?
This is an unbelievably good story and I recommend it to anyone and everyone, especially those people who are interested in the Holocaust.

Chapters 22-End:
It turns out that the "it was a not a bird" meant that it was a baby. A German soldier threw a baby in the air and shot it, then shot the mother. I now understand why Irene repeated that line so many times.
I have to admit this book made me sick to my stomach a couple times. It was horrible what the Nazis did to people, but I think every word in this story was 100% necessary. Ever word, every detail.
If you read an autobiographical story about the Holocaust it is usually about the survivors and how it was inside the concentration camps. This is the first story I have ever read about a Holocaust rescuer. It was interesting to get another perspective on WWII. It was refreshing to know that there were many good people out there even in such dark times.
The one part I absolutely hated in this book was towards the end. It was when she went to confess about being the major's mistress to save her 12 friends. The priest told her that he could not give her absolution or forgiveness. He said that this would ruin her soul from being immortal and that the people she was saving were Jewish. I honestly think God would be more happy about the fact that she was saving 12 innocent people's lives, than the fact that she was having premarital sec. And so what if the people who she was saving were Jewish? God loves everyone. Doesn't He? He created all. However, I did like how Irene handled the situation. "But I placed myself in God's Hands all the same." "I had God's blessing. I was never more sure of anything."
This may sound a tad odd but I feel like Irene acted the youngest with the partisans where she met Janek. It may be that her nickname was Mala, meaning little. Or possibly because this was the first time during the war when she didn't have to act like an adult or a mother for other people. Since the very beginning she had to take care of soldiers, her sisters, her patients, friends, and family. This was the first time in so long where she actually got to relax. She even fell in love, with Janek. Then two day before their wedding day (and her birthday) he was killed during an ambush.
It is truly a miracle how she survived so many beatings, to her heart and body. Then after the war, she had to wait almost 50 years to see her family again! That is so horrible and heartbreaking. At least all her sisters were safe.
I loved the ending and her last minute escapes. I also love the title. At first I wasn't so sure that the title fit well. Now I am positive that it is great. I couldn't think of a better one.





Join the Discussion

This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

SomeoneHelpful said...
yesterday at 5:06 pm
The "birds" that were shot by the officers were actually infants.
 
Jenni said...
May 20, 2014 at 12:40 pm
This book was amazing my favorite part is when Irene ''Skinnybones'' was thinking about others and just not her family.
 
bRealTime banner ad on the left side
Site Feedback