News & Events

When life echoes art (and vice versa)

From the (virtual) pen of our Executive Vice President, Joyce:

I spend most of my time doing Tanenbaum work, but recently I took time to be with friends and pay a visit to Broadway to see a play that reminded me how the theater can engulf you and still remind you of your work.

The play, Irena’s Vow, tells the story of Irena Gut Opdyke, a young Polish Catholic who,  like so many of our Peacemakers, risked her own life to save others – in her case, 12 Jewish refugees who would otherwise have been victims of the Holocaust.

At only 21, Opdyke was captured by the Soviets, imprisoned, raped, and then released only to become a slave laborer in a German munitions factory.  That was where an elderly major discovered her and took her as his housekeeper – and where she met the Jews she would later save. She took brazen risks, secretly sequestering the Jews in the villa basement of the head German officer in her town!  Risk after risk; I was in tears.

But her story didn’t end with saving those 12 people.  Years later, after establishing a life and family in California, Opdyke received a call from a student who was doing a poll. His question: Do you believe the Holocaust really happened? (Can you imagine? I would have hated to have been that young man!)  But that apparently was what made her start sharing her story. In fact, that was the first time she actually told her daughter what had happened, and what pushed her to become an activist for not forgetting. (She eventually wrote a book as well, In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer.)

After hearing her on the radio a playwright asked Opdyke about doing a play, and now it’s there for all of us to see. What made me think of our Peacemakers when I saw Irena’s Vow was that Opdyke says that all her “courage” should be credited to her faith in God and an upbringing that instilled the value of putting the Golden Rule into action – no matter what a person’s race or religion.

The play speaks for itself. It was powerful for me personally, not just professionally. It also reminded me just how many religiously-motivated men and women there are – who risk life and freedom to overcome horror, to stop violence and to work toward the possibility of lived peace. How many of these incredible stories have we not heard?