Monday, May 6, 2013

In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Survivor

Opdyke, Irene, and Armstrong, Jennifer. In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer. 
New York: Random House, Inc., 1999. Print.


One teenage girl has more courage than twenty grown men as she defied the occupying Nazis to hide Jews right under their noses.


When it comes to Nazi Germany, you don't need to write fictional stories. The truth is so much stranger and bizarre and horrifying than fiction, there is no need to write anything but those true accounts -- so brave, inspiring, and rivetingly awful. But what an amazing example of the good in the human spirit soaring above the worst examples of what humans can do, in this sad period of our history: the Holocaust.

Irene Gut Opdyke was just a teenage girl when the Nazis invaded her homeland of Poland. Training to be a nurse, she was caught between the Nazis and the Russians as they fought over ground in her country. Her story is unbelievably tragic and brutal. Her bravery, ingenuity, and self-sacrifice would be impressive for even a war hero, but when considering she was a very young woman, are downright astounding. Her story is honest and never self-congratulatory. Her multiple acts of humanity were to her the only possible ones she could ever have made.

Jennifer Armstrong, an award-winning author of historical fiction, best known for Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance, which won three separate book awards, (1999 Boston Globe Horn Book Honor in nonfiction, 1999 NCTE Orbis Pictus Award for outstanding nonfiction, 1999 Riverbank Review Children's Books of Distinction - nonfiction) wrote Irene's story (as told to her) in first person narrative as Irene, providing such an immediate and raw connection to Irene and her experiences through the Holocaust as to put the reader right smack in the middle of it themselves. Being a writer, Armstrong handles Irene's story with such amazing respect and reverence, infusing each emotive scene with beautiful and haunting prose that allows this true account to read as lovely as any fiction, but always the reader is acutely aware that this is no fiction

I am of the opinion that the Holocaust is a story that lends itself particularly well to nonfiction, because it is precisely the personal, true aspect of it's horrors punctuated with contrasting acts of humanity and hope that makes any fictional tale of it seem frivolous at best, sacrilege at worst. There are enough personal, true accounts to be cautionary tales there is no need to make any up.

In My Hands won 1999 Children's Bookseller's Cuffies Award for best autobiography, 2000 Association of Booksellers for Children's Choices Award in nonfiction, and the 2000 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, 2000 Riverbank Review Children's Book of Distinction - nonfiction. It is obvious that this is truly a highly regarded work, especially relevant to children and teens precisely because it is  a true account of a teen who experiences extraordinary events of history first hand, and not only doesn't allow herself to be a victim of this horrible time in human history, but becomes who she is going to be defined as a person precisely because she isn't passive, but is active, is instrumental, in saving lives and making a difference during a war when it seemed not many people dared to do so. Her story is one relatable and inspiring to all readers, but especially to teens who need stories and real-life heroes such as Irene Gut Opdyke.

I read this book because Jennifer Anderson nominated it (for a Mock-Printz) and wrote such a compelling case for it in our MSU discussion board. I want Jennifer to know that if I had finished it before nominations, I very well might have nominated it. I am positive I would have put it up for a honor. She was spot-on in her blog post when she summed it up with one word: magnificent.

Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir, Coming-of-Age, Multicultural

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