Washington, D.C., April 21, 2009 … Irene Gut Opdyke, whose courageous story of saving Jews during the Holocaust is the subject of a current Broadway play, Irena's Vow, was honored posthumously by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for her heroism in risking her life to save others.
The ADL Courage to Care Award, which honors rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust era, was presented to Irene's daughter during a ceremony at the League's National Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.
"Irene Gut Opdyke stood up against great personal odds to save Jews," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor who was saved by his Polish Catholic nanny, in presenting the award. "At a moment of moral collapse, she did not forget the essential principle of leading a moral life: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you."
Janina Opdyke Smith, who accepted the award on her mother's behalf, said, "We still have hate and persecution in our world today, but the power of love is so much stronger than the power of hate. And the power of one is so incredible. I know my mother is looking down from above, so appreciative of this honor. I can't thank you enough."
Soon after the outbreak of World War II in Poland, Irene Gut, a Polish Catholic nurse, joined the underground. She was captured by the Russians who beat and raped her, and sent her to work at a field hospital for wounded Russian soldiers. After escaping, Irene was captured by the Germans who sent her into slave labor at a munitions plant. Irene caught the eye of a German officer who found easier work for her and eventually took Irene as a housekeeper when he was transferred to Ukraine.
There, Irene hid 12 Jews in the officer's villa without his knowledge, feeding and caring for them. When the officer accidentally discovered them, Irene begged for their lives, offering her own death as punishment. He agreed to keep Irene's secret if she became his mistress, to which she consented. As German forces retreated from the Soviet offensive, Irene and the Jews she protected fled to the relative safety of the forests where they survived.
In 1987, ADL created a unique award to honor rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust era. The ADL Courage to Care Award is a plaque with bas-reliefs depicting the backdrop of the rescuers' exceptional deeds – the Nazis' persecution, deportation and murder of millions of Jews. The Courage to Care program is sponsored by Eileen Ludwig Greenland.
Past recipients of the ADL Courage to Care Award include: Gilberto Bosques Saldívar, Eduardo Propper de Callejón, Khaled Abdelwahhab, Ernst Leitz II, Mefail and Njazi Bicaku, Hiram Bingham IV, Sir Nicholas Winton, Konstantin Koslovsky, Jan and Miep Gies, Aristides De Sousa Mendes, Jan Karski, Selahattin Ulkumen, Chiune Sugihara, the French town of Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon, Emilie and Oskar Schindler, The Partisans of Riccione, Italy and Johanna Vos.