Campus & Community

DU welcomes Holocaust hero’s daughter

Irene Gut Opdyke was only a teenager when she made the decision to save 12 lives despite the risk to herself. During World War II, the Polish nurse hid 12 Jewish friends in the basement of a Nazi major’s house. She was a simple housekeeper there, but her courage and compassion changed the fates of those she sheltered.

On Jan. 27, the DU student group Never Again!, which promotes awareness of the Holocaust and the atrocity of genocide, will host a lecture by Opdyke’s only daughter, Jeannie Opdyke Smith. Since her mother passed away in 2003, Smith has continued to tell the story and share its lessons.

“The truth is that every day — no matter who we are — we have a choice that could make a lasting result in someone’s life,” Smith says. “Maybe it’s stopping a joke that is putting someone else down or standing with someone who is being mistreated. Perhaps it’s stepping out and being heard when something is wrong or hurtful.”

Smith’s lecture, “One Person Can Make a Difference,” which is scheduled in recognition of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

“It wasn’t just that Opdyke took one action,” says Never Again! President Wendy Low, a junior biology major with a minor in Judaic studies. “She took action after action to save their lives, knowing the danger she was in.”

Other sponsors of the event include the Center for Judaic Studies, the Undergraduate Student Government’s diversity committee and the Social Justice Living and Learning Community. Low says she hopes the presentation encourages attendees to serve the public good.

“We want people from all different groups to come and stand in solidarity and say, ‘Now what?’ How can these different groups take action toward social justice?” Low says.

When Opdyke traveled across the United States and Canada telling her own story to large groups, she would ask to speak in the local schools as well. Smith says her mother loved speaking to students most of all.

“Mom believed that it was the young people who most needed to learn and understand that one person truly can make a difference,” Smith says. “She would stand in front of a classroom or auditorium and tell the kids, ‘You are the future; it’s up to you to make different choices, stand up to hate and to bullies in all forms.’”

Jeannie Opdyke Smith’s “One Person Can Make a Difference” presentation runs from 7–8:30 p.m. Jan. 27 in Davis Auditorium in Sturm Hall, 2000 E. Asbury Ave. The lecture is free and open to the public; no registration required. Light refreshments will be served.

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