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‘Irena’s Vow’: Dan Gordon (Screenwriter) Talks about the Film and Irena Gut’s Amazing Legacy and Faith 

Irena’s Vow is a historical drama based on the incredible true story of Irena Gut—a young nurse who risked her life during the Nazi Occupation of Poland to save the lives of twelve Jews. The film—an adaptation of a Broadway stage play of the same name—is being released through Fathom Events on April 15th. You can read our review of the film here.   

We had the chance to talk with Dan Gordon, the screenwriter and a friend to Irena Gut. (We also spoke with Jeannie Opdyke Smith, Irena Gut’s daughter, about the new film and her mother’s faith and legacy. You can find that interview here).  

(Note: this interview has been edited for length and clarity. Watch the full conversation above.)   

Daniel Blackaby: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat about this new film. 

Dan Gordon: Thank you for having me. Delighted to be here.  

DB: This is a powerful film. I think a lot of people are really going to be moved by it.  

DG: Oh, thank you so much. I appreciate that. It was the culmination of a long and torturous journey that took almost 30 years. 

DB: You have been closely connected to this story for many years going back to the stage play, which I believe debuted in 2008. But I know that the story begins even before that. What was your entry point into this story? 

DG: Somewhere around 1995, I was driving home from a business meeting and there was a show on the radio in LA called Religion on the Line that Dennis Prager used to host. I wasn’t a big fan of the show. It wasn’t like I tuned in every week. I was just channel surfing and I happened upon it. And he had Irene Gut Updyke on telling her story. The story was so captivating that when I got to my home, I sat in the driveway for another two and a half hours, spellbound. 

The next day I called the radio station and said I’d like to leave my phone number, and if you could pass it along to Mrs. Updyke, I can tell her that I’m interested in acquiring her life story rights to do a motion picture. About three hours later, I got a call with this delightfully accented voice at the other end saying, “Hello, this is Irene.” And that began the love affair between Irene and myself. She became like a second mother to me. My mother had already passed by then. And honestly, Irene was like a second mother. 

DB: What was her reaction to your intention of the play and the idea of her story being publicly shown in that way?  

DG: I came close to getting the movie made and it just wasn’t happening. Irene was towards the end of her life, and I knew that I had to do something rather quickly. My roots are in the theater, so I wrote the play, and I was workshopping it at a small college in New England when Irene was in the hospital at the very end of her life. And on the very first performance of the play ever, I called the hospital and told her daughter to hold the phone up to her mom’s ear. And I said, “Irene, you hear that applause? That’s for you.” And she passed the next day or the day thereafter.  

She had always said to me, “Who will tell the children when I’m gone? And I said, “You will. And we’ll find a way to make that happen.” So, I was very happy that I kept that promise. And now, finally, the movie’s out, and Irene will tell her story for many years to come.  

DB: She was a woman of strong faith. How essential was her faith in helping her persevere through her experiences? 

DG: Irene had what I’ve told people was a perfect faith. I’ve only known one person like that in my entire life, and that was Irene. It was not dogmatic in any way. It wasn’t attached to church dogma. It was a very, very personal relationship with God. Imagine a 20-year-old who’s charged all of a sudden with saving 12 lives. It wasn’t that Irene had a plan. She didn’t plan anything out. When the major said, “I want you to be my housekeeper,” she immediately went, “I can hide these Jews in the basement of the major’s house.” That’s insane. It’s just flat out insane, but her faith in God was so pure that God would see her through this. I don’t believe her faith was ever challenged. I think she went through trying circumstances, but it never put a dent in her faith. Her faith was almost childlike and innocent, except in a mature adult. And it was a very personal relationship that she had with God. It was an inspiring faith to be around.  

DB: There are plenty of stories and films set in the horrific events of the war, but there is something fresh and unique about this story told through the perspective of Irene, who was very humble and ordinary. She was scared and yet driven to sacrifice everything to save even one life.  

DG: And she said a very wise thing. She had seen a baby ripped out of its mother’s arms and killed in front of her and then the Nazi officer shot the mother, which shows you the extent of the cruelty that he wanted the last thing the mother saw to be the death of her infant. Irene said, “I knew that if I tried to intervene, I would have been killed.” She said, “God never asks you to do what’s impossible. God asks you to do what’s possible. So, at that moment, I made a vow to God that if it ever comes into my hand to save a life, I’m making a vow that I will do it.” And that’s what she did.  

DB: I think there is something timeless about the message of moral courage. But at the same time, there’s also something timely about this film. Why do you feel that this is an important film for today?  

DG: I used to think, maybe the enemy is trying to block this movie from getting out there. I now think that maybe God was saving it for a time such as this. I never dreamed in my worst nightmare that I would ever live to see a day when Jews would be hiding again from genocidal mass murderers burning their ways through their towns and their villages, intent on massacring them and their children for the crime of being Jews. But that’s exactly what happened on October 7th. And just like the Holocaust, there was an immediate effort to deny that it happened. And it’s become now, in certain circles, not just acceptable to have Jew hatred, but virtuous, which is insane. 

And so, I have no doubt that were Irene alive today, she would be saying that this isn’t the time to be silent. This is the time to speak up. It isn’t the time to keep your head down. This is the time to stand. This isn’t the time to be timid. This is the time to be bold. And so, I think it’s more timely now than when I wrote it, unfortunately.  

DB: I appreciate your work to get this story out and to take the time to stop by and chat about this film. 

DG: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. Thank you. 

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