Opdyke, Irene Gut 1918-2003
OPDYKE, Irene Gut 1918-2003
OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born May 5, 1918, in Kozienice, Poland; died of liver and kidney failure resulting from hepatitis May 17, 2003, in Fullerton, CA. Public speaker and author. Opdyke drew on her World War II experiences saving Jewish people from the Nazis to inform the public about the horrors of the Holocaust. Living in Poland and studying to be a nurse when the war broke out, she tried to flee to safety but was caught and raped by Russian soldiers. Recovering from her injuries, she worked briefly in a Russian hospital before trying to go back to Poland, where she was again captured—this time by Nazis who made her work in a munitions factory. The Germans then assigned her to be a housekeeper, and she worked for a major. When she learned that the Jews with whom she worked were going to be rounded up and sent to concentration camps, she hid them, at great risk to her personal safety, beneath a gazebo located on the grounds of the major's country home. There they remained, undiscovered, for eight months. When the major finally did discover them, she promised to become his mistress to save their lives. With Germany's defeat, Opdyke ended up in a camp where she met her future husband, United Nations worker William Opdyke. With him she moved to the United States, promising herself she would begin a new life and never speak of her past again to anyone, not even her daughter. However, decades after the war's end, she finally spoke of her experiences, prompted by comments by revisionist historians who were trying to convince the public that the Holocaust never happened. Her story was so powerful that Opdyke soon became a speaker in great demand, and she traveled around the world to share her tale. She also wrote two books, Into the Flames: The Life Story of a Righteous Gentile (1992), with Jeffrey M. Elliot, and In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer (1999), with Jennifer Armstrong.
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2003, p. B10.
Times (London, England), May 28, 2003.
Washington Post, May 21, 2003, p. B7.