Moving Holocaust film 'Irena's Vow' sheds light on resilience of Polish Catholic during WWII

Sophie Nélisse as Irene Gut Opdyke, left, stars in a scene from the movie “Irena's Vow.”
Sophie Nélisse as Irene Gut Opdyke, left, stars in a scene from the movie “Irena's Vow.” | Elevation Pictures, Quiver Distribution

The Holocaust film "Irena's Vow” captures the resilience and heroism of one young woman during World War II and serves as a poignant reminder of one of modern history's darkest times amid growing antisemitism, according to the daughter of the film's real-life heroine.

“Irena’s Vow,” in theaters April 15–16, chronicles the life of Irena Gut Opdyke, a Polish Catholic who risked her life during the war by hiding Jews in the home of a Nazi commandant where she was employed as a housekeeper. 

Directed by Louise Archambault, the film is written by Dan Gordon, known for "The Hurricane," which draws from his own stage play to depict Opdyke's transformation. The narrative follows Opdyke's journey from a devout 19-year-old nurse to a cunning and practical young woman, navigating the dangers of her wartime environment with courage and determination.

Get Our Latest News for FREE

Subscribe to get daily/weekly email with the top stories (plus special offers!) from The Christian Post. Be the first to know.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Opdyke’s daughter, Jeannie Smith, said she hopes the film underscores the importance of life and kindness — a lesson her mother exemplified through her actions.

“Mom was a big proponent of life, honestly, and the value of it, whether it was from a little wounded animal to the most elderly person and the unborn baby,” Smith said. “There’s no hope without life. It’s so important to hold on to it, to cherish it, to fight for it.”

Smith, a devout Christian, has for years traveled the world sharing her mother’s remarkable story — yet she had no idea how timely the film adaption of Opdyke's life would be, given the rise in antisemitism around the world. 

“It just blew me away with the things that happened with Israel and Hamas," she said. "To me, the timing of it is perfect. There's unfortunately a decline in support for Israel, even among people who are believers, Catholics, Christians and young people. The timing is perfect, I think. I hope that it has a big impact on that as well.”

Smith stressed that the Scriptures are “full of verses” that say, “Those who bless Israel will be blessed,” adding: “As Christians, Judaism is our root. There would be no Christianity, no Catholicism, without Judaism. They are the apple of God's eye. He told them that, and He does not change His mind. It’s been an honor to be a part of their lives to support them and to show the value that they brought to our world.

There are doctors, scientists, musicians and lawyers, that are Jewish and are brilliant. I tell the Jewish people that I believe in God, basically, because I know all these Jewish people, I see all of His brilliance put into them.”

Actress Sophie Nélisse portrays Opdyke in the film and effectively captures how, despite being Polish, her ability to appear German helped her advance quickly within the Nazi hierarchy. Through sheer resourcefulness, she eventually earned a position managing the household of Major Rugemer, played by Dougray Scott, while hiding Jews in a cellar behind his property.

Rated R, the film does include some harrowing moments, including a powerful scene involving the tragic fate of an infant, subtly portrayed to emphasize its impact on Irena and how it fueled her passion for life. 

Nélisse said embodying Opdyke “impacted” her deeply. 

“I carry a lot of her soul with me every day because she tells such an inspiring story and it’s so relevant to our modern society,” she said. “I think we are so closed off and centered on our own lives without ever looking up and trying to help the person next to us. I think she's proof that the smallest actions can go the longest way. It’s a constant reminder that it doesn't have to be as heroic as Irena, but just a smile or a compliment, helping someone pick up a bag, can have a ripple effect down the line. If we were all a little more caring towards each other, we’d be in a much more beautiful society.”

For younger audiences, particularly, the 24-year-old actress said she hopes the film bridges the gap between historical events and modern implications. "We should all be more empathetic," she said.

“I think [stories like this] can feel so far away and out of touch and out of reach because it feels like forever ago,” she continued. “But it wasn't long ago, and it keeps happening, obviously. … We're so quick to judge our differences as a society, but our differences are what makes us beautiful as a human race. It doesn't mean that you have to agree with everyone's opinions and everyone's values, but we should be more empathetic and at least try to be more and more understanding.”

Though it took years for Opdyke to share her story — it wasn’t until she encountered a “Holocaust denier” that she chose to open up about her experience — she eventually received several recognitions for the work she did to protect Jews during the Holocaust, including being honored as Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli Holocaust Commission and a Medal of Honor recipient in a ceremony at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

Her story is also part of a permanent exhibit in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., among other recognitions, and in 1995, she received a papal blessing from Pope John Paul II for her sacrifice.

But according to her daughter, Opdyke never anticipated recognition and accolades for her work: “I just hope she knows her story is getting told,” Smith said.

She emphasized that “Irena’s Vow” isn’t just another Holocaust story; it is a call to action, a plea for empathy and a reminder of the courage and resilience that comes through faith. 

“I get a lot of people going, ‘Oh, I wasn't sure I was going to see this movie because I've seen so many Holocaust movies and heard so many Holocaust stories,’” Smith said. “But this one is different. It's not from a Jewish perspective. It's from a girl who was all on her own. She was away from her family. She didn't have her home. She didn't have parents, sisters or any friends. It’s a story about how one person can make a difference. It hopefully shouts louder to everybody that no matter how insignificant they feel, they have great power to make a difference.”

"Irena's Vow" is in theaters April 15–16.

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at:

Was this article helpful?

Help keep The Christian Post free for everyone.

By making a recurring donation or a one-time donation of any amount, you're helping to keep CP's articles free and accessible for everyone.

We’re sorry to hear that.

Hope you’ll give us another try and check out some other articles. Return to homepage.

Most Popular

More Articles