‘Irena’s Vow’ Is One of the Most Astounding Holocaust Stories

It’s a true if fantastic story, anchored by the powerful, heartfelt performances of Sophie Nélisse as an innocent girl whose integrity and resolve turns her into a woman of maturity and strength.

Sophie Nélisse stars as Irene Gut in ‘Irena’s Vow,’ the true story of a Catholic nurse who saved dozens of Jews from the Nazis. Courtesy of Quiver

Filmed on authentic locations in Poland by meticulous Canadian director Louise Archambault, Irena’s Vow is one of the most astounding true stories to ever emerge from the ashes of the Holocaust. With fascism once again polluting the news in American politics as well as world conflicts, any film about courage and moral clarity in a time of barbarism and genocide has a justifiable urgency worthy of vital attention.

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IRENA'S VOW ★★(3.5/4 stars)
Directed by: Louise Archambault
Written by: Dan Gordon
Starring:Sophie Nélisse, Dougray Scott
Running time: 122 mins.


In 1939, when the Nazis invaded Warsaw and the hospital where she worked was bombed, a 19-year-old Catholic nurse named Irena Gut (Sophie Nélisse, from the popular TV series “Yellowjackets”) was recruited by the occupying Germans to work against her will for their cause in a sewing factory where she aroused the interest of a Nazi officer, Major Edward Rugemter, who assigned her domestic status working as his housekeeper. Shocked and mortified after witnessing the brutal murders of a mother and her baby, Irena made a silent vow to help a dozen friends and colleagues, all Jewish tailors from the sewing factory, survive their horrid fates by hiding them in the coal bin in the cellar. Discovery would have meant death to all, but as risky as it was, Irena’s plan went remarkably well for a while, even though one of the Jews had a bad time hiding his asthma, making his coughing inevitable. The ultimate challenge arrives when another of her charges becomes pregnant and Irena refuses to allow an abortion under the floorboards as part of her vow.  

The story ultimately strains credulity to the breaking point, especially when the major discovers what Irena has been up to under his nose and negotiates an impossible solution in the form of the ultimate deal: savior for all if Irena will become his mistress! It’s a true if fantastic story, anchored by the powerful, heartfelt performances of Sophie Nélisse as an innocent girl whose integrity and resolve turns her into a woman of maturity and strength, and Dougray Scott as her boss—a Nazi savage whose need for affection teaches him a thing or two about humanity. After the war, Irena was imprisoned by the Soviets as a German collaborator and a Polish partisan, but the story didn’t end there. Now, it was the Jews she saved whose turn was to save her. The survivors of Irena’s vow, including the baby she protected from death in the darkness of a coal bin, appeared in person at last fall’s Toronto International Film Festival, where the film was unveiled. Never have a handful of non-celebrities better deserved their standing ovation.

‘Irena’s Vow’ Is One of the Most Astounding Holocaust Stories