When World War II began, Irene Gutowna was a 17-year-old Polish nursing student. Six years later, she writes in this inspiring memoir, "I felt a million years old." In the intervening time she was separated from her family, raped by Russian soldiers, and forced to work in a hotel serving German officers. Sickened by the suffering inflicted on the local Jews, Irene began leaving food under the walls of the ghetto. Soon she was scheming to protect the Jewish workers she supervised at the hotel, and then hiding them in the lavish villa where she served as housekeeper to a German major. When he discovered them in the house, Gutowna became his mistress to protect her friends--later escaping him to join the Polish partisans during the Germans' retreat. The author presents her extraordinary heroism as the inevitable result of small steps taken over time, but her readers will not agree as they consume this thrilling adventure story, which also happens to be a drama of moral choice and courage. Although adults will find Irene's tale moving, it is appropriately published as a young adult book. Her experiences while still in her teens remind adolescents everywhere that their actions count, that the power to make a difference is in their hands. --Wendy Smith
From the Inside Flap:
You must understand that I did not become a resistance fighter, a smuggler of Jews, a defier of the SS and the Nazis all at once. One's first steps are always small: I had begun by hiding food under a fence."
Through this intimate and compelling memoir, we are witness to the growth of a hero. Irene Gut was just a girl when the war began: seventeen, a Polish patriot, a student nurse, a good Catholic girl. As the war progressed, the soldiers of two countries stripped her of all she loved — her family, her home, her innocence — but the degradations only strengthened her will.
She began to fight back. Irene was forced to work for the German Army, but her blond hair, her blue eyes, and her youth bought her the relatively safe job of waitress in an officers' dining room. She would use this Aryan mask as both a shield and a sword: She picked up snatches of conversation along with the Nazis' dirty dishes and pa
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