Community is invited to attend 2016 Holocaust Day of Remembrance

by | Apr 8, 2016 | What’s Happening

Jeannie Opdyke Smith

Jeannie Opdyke Smith

Wednesday, May 4, 6:45 pm, Temple Israel

The Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater invites the Jewish community to attend the annual Holocaust Day of Remembrance, Yom Hashoah.

The free event includes a guest speaker, a poignant candle lighting ceremony, and prayers from area clergy and leadership.

Student winners of the Holocaust Commission’s annual Elie Wiesel competitions and recipients of the Commission’s excellence in education awards will also be honored and recognized.

Jeannie Opdyke Smith is this year’s guest speaker. Smith is part of a new generation of Holocaust speakers who share the life stories from their parents’ first hand experiences.

The daughter of Polish Catholic rescuer Irene Gut Opdyke who passed away in 2003, Smith carries on her mother’s mission of letting as many people know what the Holocaust was like and a passionate message that “one person can make a difference.”

Smith captures audience’s attention with the retelling of her mother’s experiences during World War II . As a young Polish woman, Irene Gut Opdyke took extraordinary risks and made unimaginable sacrifices to save Jewish lives while she was working for a high-ranking German official.

Opdyke received international recognition for her actions during the Holocaust. The Israeli Holocaust Commission named her one of the Righteous Among the Nations. She was presented with the Israel Medal of Honor, Israel’s highest tribute, a special commendation from the Vatican, and her story is part of a permanent exhibit in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Posthumously, Opdyke was presented the Commanders Cross—the Polish medal of honor, and the Courage to Care Award by the Anti-Defamation League.

Opdyke’s 1999 book, In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer relays the detailed account of her life during WWII . Her life story was told on Broadway in the nationally acclaimed play, Irena’s Vow, staring Tovah Feldshuh.

Jeannie Smith’s visit is a return to the area, in part due to requests from those who heard her last July when she was a keynote speaker at the Holocaust Commission’s Biennial Educators’ Conference.

Smith is a member and speaker for the Oregon and Washington Holocaust Speakers Bureau, a regular speaker for the Anti-Defamation League’s Bearing Witness Program, and a national speaker for the Jewish Federation of North America.

For more information, visit, email, or call 757-965-6100.