Holocaust movies and shows extensively explore the concept of being hidden, the passive state of living on someone else’s whim. But too few highlight the active version: the kind of hiding that gives the person on the run a measure of control over his fate.

That is changing, as highlighted by a couple of exchanges in the film Irena’s Vow, about a righteous Polish woman who saved a dozen Jews in German-occupied Tarnopol. The film is based on the life and heroics of Irena Gut, who died in 2003.

A nurse forced to work for Nazi Major Eduard Rügemer as a live-in housekeeper, Gut moves a group of Jews into the cellar of Rügemer’s commandeered villa, where they must stay at night. During the day, they help her cook and clean. In the film, Rügemer discovers rats in the cellar—this revelation is done in a way that leaves it ambiguous at first whether he’s talking about rats or Jews—and orders Gut to get an exterminator, which would likely force the hiding Jews to flee.

When she delivers the news, one of the Jews says, “Maybe things aren’t as grave as they seem.” Asked to elaborate, he simply says, “It was a Jewish house.” The inference is easily picked up by the group. “No Jew would have built a villa like this without a room big enough to hide his entire family,” chimes in another. Sure enough, they find it, significantly aiding their ability to evade discovery. It’s a nod to the fact that even before the war, life for Jews required more vigilance and creativity.

Most of the time, the watchful eyes in these movies are owned by the Nazis themselves or hostile nosy neighbors. There’s another category that shows up in Irena’s Vow, however. A non-Jewish Polish woman knocks on the door one day and asks Irena to hide her Jewish husband at the villa along with the others. The husband turns out to be on the run from a prominent Nazi, leading some of the hiders to oppose bringing him in. But one of the Jews points out that the man already knows their hiding spot, and so it would be safer to keep him with them.

This kind of calculus is rarely shown on screen, but it’s an important part of the story. So is the fact that the hiding Jews help Gut keep house during the day, because if the villa weren’t spotless and the food perfect when Rügemer comes back each day, he’d assign a second servant to help Gut with whatever is needed, making it nearly impossible to hide anyone in the house. Gut’s request to be the sole housekeeper is only honored because the Jews in the basement earn their keep.

Gut is played by the excellent Sophie Nelisse, one of the stars of the Showtime series Yellowjackets. It’s an intense role that requires Nelisse to “act with her eyes,” and she does so deftly. She’s no superspy; she’s a good Catholic in over her head and living moment to moment. Nelisse portrays Gut’s exploits without showing a hint of self-confidence, which raises the tension for the audience and serves as a constant reminder of her relative youth (Gut was about 20 when she went to work for Rügemer).

Near the beginning of Irena’s Vow, which is in theaters today and tomorrow as part of a Fathom event, a German employee of Rügemer’s gives Gut some advice: “Do you know how one survives this sort of change in destiny? You look down. You look neither to the left nor to the right nor up. Not even straight ahead. You look at your own two feet taking one step at a time. What I mean is, you worry about you. You take care of you.”

Gut doesn’t take this advice, which is why she’s listed on the Yad Vashem roster of the Righteous Among the Nations. And her compromises weren’t only of the earthly. When Rügemer discovers that Gut’s been hiding Jews in his own house, he agrees to keep her secret if she’ll agree to become his mistress. That decision eventually costs Rügemer his career, his home, and his family. He, too, is listed among the Righteous. Though the film doesn’t dwell on it, Rügemer did more to help Jews before and after the events at the villa.

Yet refreshingly, as in the Hulu series We Were the Lucky Ones, which is also based on a true story, of a family’s struggle to survive occupied Poland, the Jews in this movie aren’t used as mere props for the heroism of others. In both productions, the Jews in hiding do not stay in one place but neither can they flee the war theater. They survive only in ways that enable others to survive as well, with courage and ingenuity on par with that of their rescuers. The portrayal of the hidden Jew is changing, and not a moment too soon.

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