Irene Gut Opdyke

Irene Gut Opdyke

Front cover of In My Hands. Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke,
ISBN 0385720327
Born 5 May 1922
Kozienice, Poland
Occupation Writer
Nationality Polish American
Genre World War II history

Irene Gut Opdyke born Irena Gut (5 May 1922 – 17 May 2003) was a Polish nurse who gained international recognition for aiding Polish Jews persecuted by Nazi Germany during World War II. She was honored as the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem for risking her own life to save twelve Jews from certain death.


Irena Gut was born into a Catholic family with five daughters in Kozienice, Poland, during the interwar period. The family moved to Radom where she enrolled at the nursing school before the Nazi-Soviet invasion of 1939. At the age of 20 Irena witnessed a German soldier shoot an infant in 1942 which has transformed her life. She began smuggling food to help Jews trapped at the Radom Ghetto. During the German occupation, Gut was hired by Major Eduard Rügemer to work in a kitchen of a hotel. She would secretly take food from the hotel and deliver it to the ghetto.[1]

She smuggled Jews out of the ghetto into the surrounding forest and delivered food for them there as well. Meanwhile, Rügemer asked Gut to work as a housekeeper in his requisitioned villa. She hid 12 Jews in the cellar. They would come out and help her clean the house when he was not around. One day Rügemer found out about the refugees in the basement and coerced Gut into becoming his mistress to escape capital punishment.[1] Rügemer fled with the Germans in 1944 ahead of the Russian advance. She and several Jews also fled west from Soviet occupied Poland to the Allied-occupied Germany. She was put in a Displaced Persons camp, where she met William Opdyke, a United Nations worker from New York City. She immigrated to the United States and married William Opdyke shortly thereafter. They raised a family together.[1]

In 1982, Irena Opdyke née Gut was recognized and honored by Yad Vashem as one of the Polish Righteous Among the Nations.

Papal blessing

On 9 June 1995, Irene Gut Opdyke was honored with a papal blessing from Pope John Paul II at a joint service of Jews and Catholics held at a synagogue in Irvine, California. The blessing had been obtained for her with the help of Monsignor Joseph Karp of the Polish Catholic Church in Yorba Linda, California. The blessing was the first recognition by the Roman Catholic Church of her heroic efforts during the Holocaust.[2]


Opdyke's autobiography, In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer (Alfred A. Knopf; later ISBN 0385720327), was published in 1999 through Random House, with co-author Jennifer Armstrong.[3][4]

In 1998 Opdyke's story was the subject of a lawsuit when she sought to regain the right to tell the authorized account of her life story, which she had previously assigned in a motion-picture option agreement. Copyright attorney Carole Handler represented Opdyke and worked with the parties to reach an agreement. The case was dismissed with prejudice.[5]


A play based on the book In My Hands, entitled Irena's Vow, opened on Broadway on 29 March 2009 to mixed reviews.[6] It was written by Dan Gordon and starred Tovah Feldshuh as Irena Gut.[7] It had earlier premiered off-Broadway at the Baruch Performing Arts Center in New York City. After failing to find an audience, the play closed on 28 June 2009.[7][8]


In 2012 the British songwriter with Polish roots, Katy Carr released a song inspired by Irena entitled Mała little Flower[9] on her album Paszport. On 26th Sept 2012 Trojka Radio in Poland nominated the song, song of the week[10] In July 2014, Katy Carr's album Paszport was voted Best Concept Album in the 13th Independent Music Awards.[11][12]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Joyce Jensen, In Her Hands by Irene Opdyke, International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.
  2. "Pope recognizes Yorba Linda woman's WWII sacrifice", Lori Haycox, The Orange County Register, 10 June 1995.
  3. Random House.
  4. Jennifer Armstrong.
  5. "Holocaust Heroine Is Satisfied With Accord", Los Angeles Times, 12 April 2000.
  6. "What's Wrong with this Spring's Broadway Plays", Richard Zoglin, TIME, 6 April 2009.
  7. 1 2 Irena's Vow at the Wayback Machine (archived July 23, 2012). Retrieved 2014-02-18.
  8. "Irena's Vow to close: Broadway play was struggling to find audience", Gordon Cox, Variety, 25 June 2009.
  9. Official music video for Mała little Flower by Katy Carr. YouTube. 29 December 2012. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  10. "Katy Carr – Mała Little Flower". Retrieved 2 September 2015.
  12. "Independent Music Awards". Retrieved 2 September 2015.


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