Irena’s Vow: Grace and Strength in the Face of Evil

Irena’s Vow: Grace and Strength in the Face of Evil April 8, 2024

When Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland in September 1939 and divided the country into west and east, the lives of all Polish people, Gentile and Jew, were changed forever, and so many were destroyed. Irene Gut (Sophie Nélisse) is a very capable 19-year-old Catholic young nurse from eastern Poland who is forced to work for Nazi officers, not knowing what happened to her mother and four sisters.

After working in a munitions factory for a year, she attracts first the wrath and then the admiration of an older officer, Major Edward Rügemer (Dougray Scott). He assigns her to serve Nazi officers in the dining room of the Nazi headquarters. A wise steward,  Shultz (Andrzej Seweryn), gives her advice on how to survive. She is then put in charge of a group of twelve tailors, including three married couples, who are Jewish prisoners working downstairs in the building. Her natural kindness charms them into trusting her. Meanwhile, a very cruel and ambitious Nazi officer named Rakita (Maciej Nawrocki) kills and torments people in the streets. After witnessing one horrific event, Irena vows to save every life she can.

Irena then becomes the major’s housekeeper, working at his requisitioned villa. Though he wants to bring in a butler to help her, she insists she can handle everything herself, even large dinner parties. This is possible because she secretly brought along her twelve Jewish friends. One of them discovers a hiding place in the large house; they come out when the major is away. Though suspicions and rumors abound about Irena’s activities, she and her friends manage well until one of the women, Ida Lazar (Eliza Rycembel), becomes pregnant. When Rügemer discovers the Jews living in his very house, he is furious at Irena’s betrayal of his trust, but he is tired of war and killing and is reluctant to shoot Irena and the Jews she has shielded for so many months. But he gives her little choice. She must become his mistress to save her friends. (Continue reading after the trailer).


The fine script is by Dan Gordon (“Hurricane”; “Wyatt Earp”), who adapted it from his 2009 play, with Tovah Feldshuh, “In My Hands.” Louise Archambault ably directs the inspiring story of a young woman who was in the right place, at the right time and did the best she could to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Be sure to stay for the credits for more information on what happens to the main characters after the war. People’s ability to forgive is immense.

Canadian actress Sophie Nélisse (“The Book Thief”) is luminous and convincing as Irena. This is a beautiful, moving film about a terrible time in history. There is some brief, explicit violence. Dougray Scott is almost unrecognizable but is well-cast as the character of the aging German officer.

You may wonder why we need another Holocaust film at this time. First, it is a very powerful story of courage and we can always appreciate this. Then, it is based on the true story of a young woman who sacrificed so much to save the lives of Jewish people who were being hunted down and systematically killed to rid Germany and the world of them. We, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and non-believers, people of every nation and race, must remember that the Holocaust happened, and it could happen again. Stories about Irena Gut Opdyke (her married name) and so many others remind us of our humanity so that we work to resolve conflict and differences to find ways to live together in justice and peace.

This is why we need “Irena’s Vow.”  We have so much to learn.

The nationwide US Fathom Event Premiere is April 15 and 16, 2024. According to the press notes, each screening will be accompanied by exclusive video footage featuring Jeannie Smith, Irena’s real-life daughter; Roman Haller, the baby conceived and born in captivity; Dan Gordon, the incredible screenwriter and storyteller; Sophie Nélisse, the actress who portrays Irena; and the director herself, Louise Archambault.

Browse Our Archives