Irena’s Vow parents guide

Irena’s Vow Parent Guide

This tale of resistance to the Nazis has a strong moral core, making it worth watching for mature teens and adults.

Overall B

Theaters: During World War II, the Polish housekeeper of a Nazi officer develops a plan to protect a group of Jewish workers, by hiding them in the last place the Germans would ever look.

Release date April 15, 2024

Violence C
Sexual Content C
Profanity A-
Substance Use C

Why is Irena’s Vow rated R? The MPAA rated Irena’s Vow R for some strong violence and brief sexuality.

Run Time: 121 minutes

Parent Movie Review

After the conquest of Poland in 1939, young nursing student Irena Gut (Sophia Nélisse) is forced to work in a factory, manufacturing ammunition for the Nazi occupiers. A lucky break sees her reassigned to kitchen duties and supervision of the laundry at the officers’ mess. Working as tailors in the laundry are a dozen Jews, most of whom have exaggerated their skills to stay out of the Ghetto. Irena develops a friendly relationship with them, and uses her position to obtain information that will protect Jews in the area.

Then, on one terrible day, Irena watches in horror as a German officer kills a baby and its mother. At that moment, she makes a vow: If ever she can save a life, she will.

Irena soon finds herself called upon to fulfill her vow. When she hears that the Jews in the laundry are to be deported to concentration camps, Irena decides to hide them. She’s just been appointed as housekeeper in Major Rügemer’s (Dougray Scott) new villa and makes the bold decision to hide the Jews in his cellar. There is ample space, but also frequent opportunity for discovery and it is unlikely that their luck will hold for long…

Based on the true story of Irena Gut Opdyke, this film joins the others that bear witness to the atrocities of Hitler’s Final Solution, the humanity of those his regime tried to destroy, and the courage of those who resisted him. Irena’s Vow faithfully details its protagonist’s bravery, quick-wittedness, and determination, cutting from one harrowing experience to another. What it fails to do is give much insight into Irena’s interior life. She is clearly a woman of great religious faith, compassion, and empathy but we never really see how she became that person. Flashbacks to critical life experiences might have helped or some kind of narration of her thoughts could also have been beneficial. As it is, we see Irena looking sad, worried, frightened, determined, and perplexed, but we never get the opportunity to understand what drives her.

My griping aside, this Canadian/Polish co-production does a fine job of telling a remarkable story. The production values are good, the acting fine, the illumination of the dilemmas facing occupied people helpful. I must also point out that the Restricted rating is unfair, profanity is minimal, and violence is not gratuitous. (Parents should note that there is a coercive sexual relationship in the film, but there is no explicit detail.) Obviously, a film set in Nazi-occupied Poland is going to feature scenes of disturbing violence or it would be whitewashing history. Director Louise Archambault has given us enough violence to explain Irena’s historical context but not enough to turn the movie into a blood-soaked nightmare. Some scenes may trigger sensitive viewers, but this film is certainly suitable for older teens and anyone else who is interested in Holocaust movies.

More to the point, this is a film with a strong moral core, and that’s always worth commending – and showing to teens. If you want your teens to find real world heroes whose superpowers are courage, resourcefulness and empathy, Irena’s Vow is a good place to start.

Directed by Louise Archambault. Starring Sophie Nélisse, Dougray Scott, Andrzej Seweryn. Running time: 121 minutes. Theatrical release April 15, 2024. Updated

Watch the trailer for Irena’s Vow

Irena’s Vow
Rating & Content Info

Why is Irena’s Vow rated R? Irena’s Vow is rated R by the MPAA for some strong violence and brief sexuality.

Violence: A hospital wall is blasted in explosion. German soldiers force people to leave a church during Mass and herd some onto a truck. A soldier throws an infant to the ground and stomps on its head before fatally shooting its mother. There are repeated mentions of exterminating Jews and then Poles. Airplanes conduct bombing runs over the city. Nazi soldiers carry out a public hanging of Jews and family who hide them. A man points a gun at a woman’s head and threatens to kill her unless she becomes his mistress.
Sexual Content: There’s a debate over performing an abortion on a woman in hiding in order to protect the other people who could be discovered if a baby cries. Someone mentions a man groping up a woman’s skirt during a meal. In a dimly lit scene, a woman is seen kneeling in front of a man whose pants are undone but there is no other detail. A woman winds up in a coercive sexual relationship with a man: he is seen kissing her and they are later seen in bed together without explicit detail.
Profanity: There is a single term of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adults drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. A woman adds sedative to a man’s drink without his knowledge or consent.

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Irena’s Vow Parents' Guide

Major Rügemer says that if his mother could see him she would be ashamed. What rationalizations does he use for the direction of his life? What are the key values that drive Irena’s life? Why does she decide to hide her Jewish friends? Why does she agree to Major Rugmer’s proposition? What are your primary values? Do they guide your choices and behavior?

For more information about Irena Gut Opdyke’s real life experiences, you can read the following articles:

NBC News: A Nazi officer’s housekeeper hid 12 Jews in the basement. All of them made it out alive.

The Zekelman Holocaust Center: Opdyke, Irene

#Don’t Be A Bystander: Irene Gut Opdyke

The Washington Post: Irene Opdyke


Loved this movie? Try these books…

Irena Gut Opdyke tells her own story in In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer and Into the Flames: The Life Story of a Righteous Gentile.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is the iconic first-person recounting of a family hiding from the Nazis. In The Hiding Place, Dutch Resistance member Corrie Ten Boom tells the story of how her family hid Jews to save them from the concentration camps. The Watchmaker’s Daughter, by Larry Loftis, also tells Ms. Ten Boom’s story.

Home Video

Related home video titles:

A factory owner saves hundreds of Jews from the death camps in the award-winning film Schindler’s List.

Appalled at the suffering of refugees in Czechoslovakia just prior to World War II, a British businessman figures out how to get hundreds of children out of the camps and into safe homes in England. The story of Nicholas Winton is told in One Life.

In My Best Friend, Anne Frank, Hannah Goslar tells the story of their friendship and need to hide from German soldiers before winding up in the same concentration camp. The documentary #Anne Frank: Parallel Storiesexamines the experiences of women who survived the horrors of the Third Reich.

People hide Jews from the Germans in Jojo Rabbit, The Book Thief, and The Zookeeper’s Wife.

There are other films about Catholics enduring the Nazi occupation. Karol: The Man who Became Pope tells the story of Karol Wojtyla who found greater faith even under the German occupation of Poland. The film can be watched for free here. An Austrian farmer and devout Catholic refuses to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler after his country is forcibly merged with Germany. The consequences of that decision are recounted in A Hidden Life.

Resistance movements across Europe played a critical role in defeating the Germans. Resistancetells the tale of Marcel Marceau, a young mime who helps Jewish children escape from Nazi-occupied France. In The Bombardment, Danish Resistance members plead with the British RAF to bomb Nazi strongholds, even though they know fellow Danes are being used as human shields. Dutch Resistance members also make difficult choices in The Forgotten Battle, a story of the liberation of Holland with the help of the Canadian Army. British spies forge link with members of the French Resistance in A Call to Spy.