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The Warsaw Voice » Society » October 22, 2008
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Inspired by a True Story
October 22, 2008   
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Irena's Vow, a moving play about a Polish Catholic woman who helped save Jews during the Holocaust, premiered in New York City at the end of September.

The play, written by American playwright and screenwriter Dan Gordon and directed by Michael Parva, is set in wartime Poland and is inspired by the story of a young Polish woman named Irena Gut who hid 12 Jews in a house occupied by a German officer during World War II. The play features actress Tovah Feldshuh in the title role.

Gut hailed from the town of Kozienice in east-central Poland and studied nursing before the war. After the war started, she was beaten and raped by Russian soldiers as they invaded the eastern part of Poland.

Some time later she was forced to work for a German munitions plant where she met Major Rugemer, a prominent SS officer who eventually requisitioned her to be his housekeeper. She supervised a laundry staffed by Jews.

"When Irena hears that all the Jews will be transported to a death camp, she knows this is not a rumor-she has already witnessed the murders of innocent Jews right before her eyes who she was too frightened to try to save," writes New York reviewer Robin Rothstein. "So she vows to God never to stand by and do nothing again, and at great risk hides and secretly protects for the next two years these 12 Jewish refugees in the safest place she can find-the cellar of Major Rugemer's villa."

The premiere of the play was accompanied by a public relations event organized by the North American Council of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The event attracted a host of Polish officials including First Lady Maria Kaczyńska, Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski, and the Polish consul-general in New York, Krzysztof W. Kasprzyk.

During the evening a posthumous Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for Irena Gut was presented to her daughter Jeannie Smith.

Gut, who died in 2003 at the age of 85, previously received Israel's Medal of Honor and the title of Righteous Among the Nations for helping Jews during the Holocaust.
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