‘Irena’s Vow’ Movie Recap & Ending Explained: How Does Irena Manage To Save The Jews?

Canadian director Louise Archambault’s latest work, Irena’s Vow has a fascinating real-life story at the center of it. It is about a young Polish woman going out of her way to save the lives of as many as twelve Jews during the Second World War. But the execution of it is extremely basic. Naturally, the result is another war-drama movie that is decent at best and completely rests on the shoulders of its lead performer, Sophie Nelisse. Well, I have to say Nelisse makes it work by being truly fantastic in the role of Irena. While Irena’s Vow fails to be anything other than a biopic filled with tropes, it does throw you a surprise by casting Dougray Scott as a Nazi officer. I have an affinity for the actor thanks to his villainous turn in Mission: Impossible 2, which was released almost a quarter century ago; since then, the actor has practically disappeared. Naturally, it’s a great pleasure to see him after all this time, that too in a substantial role. As Irena’s Vow follows the usual formula, it gives you a conclusive ending. But if you still have any sort of confusion, this article is going to be helpful.


Spoilers Ahead

What Happens in the Movie?

Irena’s days of working as a nurse abruptly end when the Nazis take control of Poland. She loses her home and family and is soon reduced to working at Major Rugmer’s house. Her first job is to get the best out of a bunch of Jew tailors who got appointed by Rugmer. Of course, these eleven Jews are not quite tailors but had to lie about having the skill in order to survive. Upon realizing that, Irena takes it upon herself to protect them. She finds an ally in Herr Schulz, an old man who’s Rugmer’s housekeeper. While Schulz advises Irena to keep her head down for her own good, she’s in no mood to listen. Especially after witnessing the horror of barbaric Nazi officer Rokita killing a newborn Jewish baby with his bare hands, Irena becomes even more determined to save the Jews she knows. Soon, that becomes one hell of a challenge as the Nazis decide to exterminate every single Jew, irrespective of any other factors. 


What does Irena do?

It turns out that fortune does favor the brave after all. With Rugmer moving to a sprawling villa and appointing Irena as the housekeeper, she finds the perfect place to hide all the Jews—in the cellar. The entire process of moving from one house to another turns out to be insufferably stressful, bypassing Nazi security and everything, but Irena does pull it off. Schulz does help, of course, while pretending to not know anything. 

In the cellar of Rugmer’s villa, the Jews finally get to settle down a bit. Irena also takes in Henry, the Jewish husband of a local vegetable seller, but more importantly, Rokita’s former employee. Rugmer’s attempt to hire another person to help his housekeeper do a proper job goes in vain when Irena convinces him that she alone is enough by successfully arranging a huge dinner party—with the help of her Jewish friends, not to mention. The victory is short-lived, as Irena and the Jews soon face an extermination problem thanks to Rugmer getting paranoid about rats in the cellar. But the Jews manage to find an even better hiding place, a secret room right under the gazebo. And the best part? There’s a way to get to that room from the cellar itself, which allows them to move around the villa, spread their legs a bit, and quickly hide if Rugmer comes back. In their hideaway, the Jews find a semblance of life, all thanks to Irena supplying them food, newspapers, and other things. But can life ever go on without complications? One of the Jews, Ida, gets pregnant, and the Jews collectively decide on aborting the baby. But Irena stands against it and convinces Ida and the others not to go forward with the abortion. 


Does Irena get caught by Rugmer?

You can’t just hide that many Jews under the nose of a Nazi officer forever, after all! Irena tries to be as discreet as possible, but news of her good deed does get spread among the Polish people. This inevitably brings some unwanted problems, like a man trying to blackmail Irena and get some money out of it. However, thanks to Henry’s suggestion, Irena skillfully handles it by telling Rugmer about it, who takes it personally, thinking someone is accusing him of hiding Jews at his house. It also helps that Rugmer completely trusts Irena and has taken a liking to her as well. Sadly, the inevitable outcome of Rugmer finding out about what Irena is doing arrives sooner than you would expect. One day, he just walks into his house and sees Irena, Ida (who’s too pregnant to hide faster), and two other women. 

Does Irena Manage to Save the Jews?

While Irena anticipates Rugmer is either going to kill her or hand her over to the Nazi authorities, the Major has other ideas. Now that he knows Jews are actually hiding inside his house, this puts his loyalty in a questionable position. So he decides to keep Irena’s secret, but with the condition that she be his mistress. She has no other choice but to comply. Rugmer does seem to genuinely love her, though, but that doesn’t make him less of a predator, especially when you consider that Irena clearly doesn’t feel the same for him. 


Just like the news of Irena’s good work traveled at lightning speed; people also get the news of her sleeping with Rugmer. The Polish shame her for it, but Irena doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. Rugmer also doesn’t try to hide his relationship with Irena. But as the war nears its end, Rugmer’s position in the Nazi army also weakens. Soon he has to leave his villa and transfer elsewhere, but Irena promises to be with him once she transfers the Jews to a safer location, which is deep in the forest. As you would expect, Irena doesn’t go back to Rugmer. She does manage to safely transfer the Jews, thus saving all of them. After a while, she gets arrested by the Russians for aiding Germany, but this time, the Jews she saved help her get out. Like how the post credit rolls in every biopic, Irena’s Vow also has the same thing, where you get to know what happens with everyone. Irena immigrated to America and married someone; Ida gave birth to the baby who met Irena many years later; and so on. Irena also met her lost sisters thanks to her story getting out in the open as many as three decades after it actually happened. 

Last but not least, if any of you have doubts over Rugmer (of him being a good person), let me tell you this is a man who has murdered many innocent Jews and also coerced Irena into sleeping with him, taking advantage of her situation. The presence of someone as terrible as Rokita in the narrative might have watered down Rugmer’s bad deeds, but at the end of the day, he’s no less of a villain. Why else would Dougray Scott play the part anyway?


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Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra Majumdar
Rohitavra likes to talk about movies, music, photography, food, and football. He has a government job to get by, but all those other things are what keep him going.

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