She saved 12 Jewish lives during the Holocaust—and now Quebecois filmmakers are telling her story

Sophie Nélisse, left, stars as Irena Gut Opdyke, a Polish nurse who was deemed one of the Righteous Among the Nations for saving 12 Jews during the Holocaust. (Photo courtesy of Elevation Pictures)

Irena Gut Opdyke was a Polish nurse who, during the Second World War, was forced to become a housekeeper for a high-ranking German officer. At some point, she was offered the chance to save a dozen Jewish lives. She agreed, hiding them in a space nobody would think to look—in the German officer’s basement.

Later honoured as a Righteous Among the Nations, Irena’s story is not very well known. But a group of Quebecois filmmakers is about to change that. Irena’s Vow, being released in theatres across Canada on April 19, is a historical drama that marks a rare Canadian-made entry into the Holocaust film genre. Lead actress Sophie Nélisse joins The CJN’s arts podcast Culturally Jewish to discuss what filming was like and what she hopes audiences will take away.

And before that, hosts David and Ilana explain—with good reasoning—why neither one of them actually watched Irena’s Vow… or, in fact, almost any other Holocaust movie. (Hint: it involves generational trauma.)


Culturally Jewish is hosted by Ilana Zackon and David Sklar. Our producer is Michael Fraiman, and our theme music is by Sarah Segal-Lazar. We’re a member of The CJN Podcast Network. To support The CJN and receive a charitable tax receipt, please consider a monthly donation by clicking here.