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Irene Opdyke

(1918 - 2003)


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Irene Opdyke was born in Poland to a Catholic family. She joined the Polish underground and hid in forests until a group of Russian soldiers accosted her and the other resistance fighters. The Russians beat and raped her and sent her to a hospital aiding Russian soldiers.

Irene desperately wanted to find her family and fled the hospital only to be captured in church by the Germans. She was taken to a munitions plant and she collapsed from the heavy labor. As a young attractive girl with Aryan features, she caught the eye of an SS officer, Eduard Rugemer, who immediately helped her find an easier position in a mess hall. At the mess hall Irene became an eyewitness of the terrible conditions of the Jews in the ghetto. At one point she saw a baby flung into the air and shot as though it were hunting game.

She left that plant with Rugemer to the Ukraine and officially became his housekeeper. She also supervised laundry duties whose workforce consisted of all Jews. After learning of the definite plans to kill all twelve Jews, Irene resolved to hide them in Rugemer's villa. She fed and clothed them until Rugemer accidentally found them one day. Irene knew that she had to do something or he would call the Gestapo. She cried and begged and pleaded, and Rugemer promised that he would not harm the twelve Jews on the condition that she would become his mistress.

She later married William Opdyke, who was working for the United Nations in displaced persons cams after the war. In 1949 she immigrated to the U.S. and lived in Southern California.

Irene remained silent about her activities during the war until later in life. She later started speaking to groups about her experience during the war, and published a book entitled Into My Hands in 1999. In 1982 she was recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Person.


Sources: Bernstein, Adam. "Irene Opdyke; Wrote of Aiding Jews in World War II." The Washington Post. May 21, 2003.

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