“Irena’s Oath” – for Poles there were no limits to sacrifice to save even one person

“Irena’s Oath” is a true story based on facts from the life of Irena Gut-Opdyke, who risked her life to save Jews hiding after the liquidation of the ghetto – a moving and at the same time shocking story about maintaining humanity in the inhuman times of World War II.

World War II is ongoing. 19-year-old Irena (Sophie Nelisse) loses contact with her family in the turmoil of war. She is forced to work as a slave in a German ammunition factory. Her situation improves when Rugemer, an SS major (Dougray Scott), draws attention to her. The man, fascinated by the resolute girl, notices that she is working beyond her strength and promotes her in the factory structure. Irena takes over new responsibilities in the kitchen, and later is also tasked with managing a sewing shop where a dozen or so Jews work. The heroine manages to overhear the Germans’ conversation, from which she finds out plans to liquidate the nearby ghetto and decides to find a way to save the workers under her supervision. Soon, a solution to the situation appears – a young Polish woman is offered a job as a housekeeper at Rugemer’s estate. Irena decides to take advantage of her employer’s trust and hide Jews who previously worked in the sewing factory in his house. However, the conspiracy does not last long. Rugemer discovers Irena’s secret and gives her an ultimatum, which will be a personal drama for the young girl.

The film “Irena’s Oath” is at the same time authentic in its brutality, but also shows the degree of brutality of the German torturers and the sacrifice of Poles to save their Jewish neighbors. What draws attention is the extraordinary bond that was created between her and the people she saved – a bond that, under the Soviet occupation, would lead to the rescue of the heroic girl from the hands of Soviet assassins by the Jews she had previously saved. The latter enable Irena to escape from prison and later leave Poland.

The undoubted advantage of the film is the very clear presentation of the profiles of individual characters, their experiences, doubts and dilemmas. It is a study of the victory of humanity over bestiality, the triumph of courage and sensitivity of the heart.

“Irena’s Oath” is a film that has not only thrilling, fast-paced action, but above all educational value, especially in the countries of the broadly understood West, where there is basically no talk about the heroism of Poles saving Jews during World War II. It is also a response to the false propaganda that Poles did nothing to save their Jewish brethren. An important and worth watching film.

This story really happened

Irena Gut studied at a nursing school before 1939. After the outbreak of the war, when German and Soviet troops occupied Polish territory, she began collaborating with the underground. Captured by a unit of Soviet soldiers, beaten and repeatedly raped, she was forced to work for the Red Army. After escaping, she was captured by the Germans and sent to forced labor in an ammunition factory. Her situation changed when an SS major made her his housekeeper. With him, she went to Tarnopol, where she became the manager of the laundry. Jews from the nearby ghetto worked there. In July 1943, when the Germans began to liquidate the ghetto, Irena Gut helped many Jews find a safe shelter. She also persuaded the commandant of the labor camp to take the rest of the workers to the forest, where they could survive the Holocaust. She herself hid 12 people: Franka Wilner with her husband and the Haller couple in the laundry room, and the rest – in Major Rugemer’s villa. After two years, it turned out that the Hallers were expecting a child. Irena did not allow the abortion. In this way, she saved thirteen human lives. In March 1944, shortly before the Red Army entered, Irena was arrested by the Gestapo. She managed to escape. She ended up in a Soviet POW camp, from where she was taken out by Jews she had met by accident. After the war, many of the rescued people went to Israel. Irena Gut met her William Opdyke in a transit camp in Germany, whom she married after arriving in the United States.

The premiere of the film “Irena’s Oath” in Polish and American cinemas will take place on April 19, exactly on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.


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