History, inspirational, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Opdyke-Irene Gut, social commentary, WWII

#163 In My Hands by Irene Gut Opdyke

The author of this book is a woman I respect. The author of this book is a woman I think is a hero. There are not many people in the world who have accomplished what Irene Opdyke accomplished in her life.

Irene was a young nursing student when world war two started. Irene had always known that she would save people in her life. When she was a young girl Irene and her sisters poured hot wax into a bowl of water to divine their futures. Irene got a ship which everyone agreed was a symbol of a saint who had saved people.

Irene’s life in the war was hard from the start. She worked feverishly in her hospital after her city was first attacked. Later on she left to join partisan forces. Irene was raped by Russian soldiers and later kept captive at a Russian ran hospital. She eventually escaped from there to go to a factory. When she got sick she was sent to work in a restaurant that German officers frequented. This is where Irene’s story gets inspirational.

After working for this restaurant for a time, it was decided that the whole operation would move to another city. Irene went along. The restaurant was attached to a hotel. At the back of a hotel was one of the Jewish ghettos that Jewish people were forced into. Irene started out small. She left bits of food under a hole in the fence. Whenever she overheard anything about exterminations or cleaning the city of Jews she told her friends, who relayed the message to as many living in the ghetto as possible. Irene saved many people this way, but she didn’t stop there.

Later on Irene was allowed to hire several Jews from the ghetto to help her do laundry and clean up around the hotel. When Irene heard about more exterminations she locked them in the laundry room overnight. A German officer who was a little too friendly to Irene hired her as his house keeper. The villa he took had a perfect hiding place under a gazebo. Irene was hiding Jews in the basement of a German officer’s home.

And again, Irene didn’t stop there. She had access to the supply warehouse and would take supplies out to the nearby forest where many Jews were hiding. Irene did this over and over again. At one point Irene was even found out.

She was found out by the major himself, the man who she house kept for. He agreed not to tell anyone about the lives in Irene’s hands as long as she would become his mistress. Irene did become the major’s mistress. Everything Irene had learned as a Catholic growing up felt violated, but Irene wanted to keep the people alive that she had been hiding. At one point Irene even went to confessional. When she told the priest there what she had done and that she had become the mistress of a German officer in order to save some Jews, the priest told her that she was going to lose her immortal soul and they were only Jews. If you ask me this priest needed a good kick in the face.

Irene managed to get her hidden Jews to the safety of the forest. Later on she joined another partisan group that fought against the Germans. Irene became known as was eventually arrested for her part in the opposition, but she got away. She eventually made her way to the United States where she told her story.

The great thing is, even after everything that happened the very Jews that Irene hid in the major’s basement took care of the major in his old age after his family had deserted him for allowing Jews to live in his basement.

What I liked: No matter how many times I read Irene’s story I can’t help but be touched. This woman had guts. She knew what was right and she stuck with it. Even when a priest told her that she shouldn’t, she kept going. Because of this woman there are hundreds if not thousands of people alive today that would not be if Irene hadn’t of stepped up. Our world needs more people like Irene.

Irene has passed away so nobody can talk to her and learn more about her life, but her deeds live on through her book and, I believe, a display at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.. This woman was the kind of role model people need.

I paid a dollar for this book. I saw it in the dollar store brand new and I bought it. I will never regret spending that dollar. If you see this book somewhere, buy it. Read it.

What I didn’t like: Irene had such a hard life and I feel bad for her. I feel bad that she had to witness some of the atrocities that she did during WWII. Because of her location Irene was a witness to any liquidations in the nearby ghetto. Irene had to listen to hundreds of people being shot by a bunch of losers. Irene recalls several times during the course of the book an instance in which she saw a Nazi officer throw a baby up in the air and shoot it like a clay disc. I feel so bad that Irene had to witness so many terrible things.

I wish Irene was still alive today so she could whip some inspiration into people today. Saving a life so a person is here later on is a big deal. I don’t know why we don’t praise people like Irene more often in our society. It’s a bigger deal that some Kardashian or another ate a hamburger than some brave person saved another person’s life. A few years ago there was a rather large earthquake in an area of China. This isn’t exactly a news flash because earthquakes aren’t uncommon in China. This one happened during the middle of the day. Kids were at school. There was a lot of destruction. One little boy was interviewed during the course of this disaster. That little boy’s name is Lin Hao. This little boy had pulled other kids out the rubble, even after he was injured himself. He kept the spirits of other children up by encouraging them to sing songs while they waited for rescue and medical care. He said he did it because he was the hall monitor and it was his responsibility to look after his classmates. I don’t know what Lin Hao is doing now, but I hope he’s doing great. He’s going to grow up to be a wonderful person.

Read this book. If you are a fan of Holocaust memoirs at all, read this book. If you’re a fan of WWII books, read this book. If you are a fan of great people who are heroes, read this book. The world only had one Irene Gut Opdyke and you’re only going to learn about her by reading her book.

Bannister-Nonna, Collected Works, History, Memoir, Non-Fiction

#60 The Secret Holocaust Diaries: The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister by Nonna Bannister


If you’re looking for a rather short memoir about the Holocaust this is a good one to read, especially if you’re a bit squeamish because there isn’t much brutality depicted in this book.

This book was compiled from Nonna’s own diaries that she kept since she was a little girl. It is obviously not her complete diaries the book would have been much longer. The primary information came from a small diary that Nonna carried with her through out all of her trials in a small pillow she had sewn.

Nonna kept her life a secret up into her old age. Until she was an old woman her husband never really knew about her past. Her children never knew it either.

Nonna came from a wealthy Russian/Ukrainian family. Her family was so wealthy that they owned a 37 room house in addition to multiple other homes. Her family had been loyal to the Czar’s in Russia before their murder and overthrow. Nonna gives a little background information on this.

Nonna then starts to tell of how her older brother was sent away when things started to heat up in Russia. Then they moved back into the grandmother’s house. Her father was beaten and then died from his wounds in the town where the grandmother lived.

Eventually, Nonna and her mother are transferred to a work camp. They suffer through horrible conditions, although the conditions are not as bad as what Jewish people suffer. Nonna got by relatively easy compared to the Jewish population. Nonna even suspects that her father is from a Jewish family since her father never talked about his family and he taught Nonna Yiddish.

In the end, Nonna is the only remaining member of her family. This is a result that so many people faced at the end of WWII.

What I liked: It was a short simple account of a wealthy Russian family during WWII. I had never read any account of that before and it was educational. Russia intrigues me to an extent because I have never read many books placed in Russia. I would like to read more because it’s interesting.

What I didn’t like: There is some poetry in the book written by Nonna. It’s just not that great. I know any greatness it probably ever had been lost in translation. Nonna spoke seven differently languages. Her diaries were kept in many languages for fear that she would be discovered.

After the first couple of poems, I skipped over the rest of the poems in the book.

Another thing I didn’t like was the layout of the book. After ever chapter, before every section, and other various places in the book there is this graphic, which I assume is supposed to be the cloth that Nonna made her pillow out of. This may be a nice effect in the print version, but in the Kindle version it’s a pain in the butt. No one wants to click one page, see a full-page graphic which isn’t even an illustration, then flip another page to see a title, then flip another page to see another graphic. It’s not a practical layout.

Since this is a memoir, I also assume that the print version probably has pictures of Nonna’s life. Multiple photos were mentioned, but only one photo was ever included in the text. I wanted to see the photos referred to in the text. If they exist they should have been included in the text. I know there is this trend to remove images from Kindle books, but that just isn’t cool. I know they take up more space on the Kindle, but if they are removed something from the book is lost. An author or editor or whoever intends certain images to appear certain places in a book and it’s just not the same if they’re not there.

Nonna had a hard life, but it wasn’t that hard compared to many others. I am glad she finally gave her husband and family permission to share her story after her death. I do have this give this book a “thumbs down” on appearance and layout though.