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.
Even among WWII memoirsÄa genre studded with extraordinary storiesÄthis 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 positionÄrisking 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 JewsÄand, 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 vulnerableÄa 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 rivetedÄand no one can fail to be inspired by Opdyke's courage. Ages 10-up. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Gr 6 Up-When WWII began, Irene Gut was 17, a Polish Patriot, and a good Catholic. Forced to work for the German Army, her blond hair, blue eyes, and youth brought her the relatively safe job of waitress in the officer's dining room. She used this Aryan mask to pick up conversations and pass the information to the Jews in the ghetto, along with food and blankets. She smuggled people from the work camp into the forest. When she was made the housekeeper of a Nazi major, she hid 12 Jews in the basement of his home until the Germans' defeat. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
"Powerful and life-affirming, this is the kind of exciting memoir that marks a reader forever." -- The Plain Dealer
"Even among WWII memoirs--a genre studded with extraordinary stories--this autobiography looms large, a work of exceptional substance and style." --Publishers Weekly, starred "Opdyke uses simple direct language to demystify the concept of heroism and depict courage as a matter of basic human decency well within the capabilities of ordinary humans." -- The Washington Post Book World