Jeannie Opdyke Smith Visits Harpeth Hall

Jeannie Opdyke Smith Visits Harpeth Hall

Shares the story of her mother, Holocaust Rescuer, Irene Gut Opdyke

Jeannie Opdyke Smith visited Harpeth Hall's campus on the morning of January 9 for a special all school assembly. Students gathered in the Frances Bond Davis theater to hear Ms. Smith talk about her mother, Holocaust Rescuer, Irene Gut Opdyke. Irene was a Polish nurse who gained international recognition for aiding Polish Jews persecuted by Nazi Germany during World War II. She was recognized and honored in many ways including a papal blessing from Pope John Paul II and as the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashe and the Israeli Holocaust Commission for risking her life to save twelve Polish Jews from certain death.

Students and faculty were riveted by the incredible story Ms. Smith shared about her mother, "a story about love and forgiveness," Smith said. Irene was a young, Polish Catholic woman who was attending nursing school away from her home and family for the first time when the Nazi Germans invaded Poland. Her story is filled with many horrors that she both experienced and witnessed, but it also imparts a beautiful message about how the power of love can triumph over evil. Ms. Smith shared stories about her mother's journey to survive World War II. A journey that tested her faith and also affirmed her belief that "God gives us free will. Every one of us has a choice," Smith quoted her mother. "[My mother] vowed that she would do all she could to help."

Irene managed to smuggle twelve Jews out of the ghetto and kept them hidden and safe from the German Nazis, eventually helping them escape to freedom. After World War II she immigrated to the United States and started a family. For many years she kept her life experiences to herself, until finally she felt compelled to share her story and began a public speaking career that culminated in her memoir, In My Hands - Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer. Irene died in 2003 at the age of 81, and now her daughter and only child, Jeannie Opdyke Smith, carries on her mother's legacy by traveling the world sharing her mother's story.

"We all know that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing," Smith said as she concluded her talk. "The truth is one person can make a difference. We are born to connect with people," Smith said.

We are forever grateful to Jeannie Opdyke Smith for sharing her mother's inspiring story with our students. If you would like to learn more about Irene Gut Opdyke, please visit her website.

Jeannie Opdyke Smith, daughter of Holocaust Rescuer, Irene Gut Opdyke, speaks to students at assembly.

photo of Irene Gut Opdyke