“Irene’s Vow” stars Sophie Nélisse and Dougray Scott. Image courtesy of Elevation Pictures and Quiver Distribution.

The amazing life of Irene Gut, depicted in the new motion picture “Irena’s Vow,” releases to theaters April 15-16. But her story of heroism, tragedy and determination was almost never told. When she immigrated to the United States in the 1950s, leaving behind the horrors of World War II, Irene defiantly placed a “Do Not Disturb” banner on everything she left behind. She married, gave birth to a daughter, and became an interior decorator. Not even her then-14-year-old daughter Jeannie knew that her beautiful, sweet, normal mother had saved lives during the Holocaust… until a random phone call changed everything.

Irene, her husband, and her daughter were having dinner when the phone rang. On the other line was a young college student taking surveys of people to support his theory that the Holocaust never actually happened. This lit a fire in Irene and opened floodgates of memories.

“These words started coming out,” Smith recalls. “At 14, you don’t really pay much attention to your parents, but I realized she had seen some incredible things. (The man on the phone) finally hung up on her and she looked at my dad and me and said, ‘All these years that I’ve kept silent, I’ve allowed the enemy to win’.”

The story, according to the film’s star Sophia Nélisse who later observed, after reading the script, was “impossible” to believe. In 1939, Irene Gut was training to be a nurse. As Poland and her own house are invaded by Nazis, she was recruited to oversee a new laundry labor force of Jews. As the Nazis’ true intentions toward the Jews became more apparent, she moves to save the lives of those in her employment by hiding and feeding them at great peril to herself. Smith said her mother’s extraordinary actions were driven by her faith in God.

“She believed that if she had the opportunity and God opened the door, she would walk through it,” Smith explains. “Her life was in his hands. She certainly had moments where it was terrifying and fearful, but mostly because of the potential harm that could come to her friends. But she truly put herself in God’s hands, so she was able to honestly rest in that.”

Upon hearing her story, award-winning screenwriter Dan Gordon (“Wyatt Earp,” “Murder in the First”) crafted a play that debuted in 2009 to rave reviews. Years later, he adapted it to a motion picture directed by Louise Archambault and starring Nélisse as Irene and Dougray Scott as Nazi officer Eduard Rügeme.

Nélisse, currently starring in the Showtime series “Yellowjackets,” was so impacted by Irene’s ability to “see the best in people and the best in life, despite everything she had been through.” Though Irene’s life was filled with extraordinary events, the actress says she’s inspired to do even the little things to help make life better for others.

“She is a perfect example that the tiny little actions which can seem so mundane, can go a long way and have a ripple effect,” she says. “And I think that now daily, I am more cautious of just doing little things smiling to someone or complimenting someone or helping them.”

Nélisse also wanted to honor Irene by doing her best. She leaned on Gordon’s guidance, who assured her she was doing justice to her memory. Smith also praised her depiction as well.

“When I saw Sophie as my mom, it was exactly how I pictured what she was in my mind (as a young woman),” she said. “I see her eyes, I see her expressions and her energy, everything.”

Irene Gotz, memorialized in literature, stage, and screen, also has a place in Holocaust memorials as one who saved the lives of Jews. Smith says her mother always “hated the term ‘hero’” because she felt it made the designation too special and perhaps unachievable by those on the sidelines. For her, it was ordinary people rising up to help others.

“Having my mother’s voice and story told through the movie ‘Irena’s Vow,’ is an honor for me,” she says. “I pray many are inspired by her message of love and courage and become willing to take up the torch and pass it on.  One person can make a difference.”

“Irene’s Vow” releases in theaters on April 15-16 through Fathom Events.

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