Escape from Sobibor

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Escape from Sobibor
Escape From Sobibor.jpg
Directed by Jack Gold
Produced by Dennis E. Doty
Written by Thomas Blatt
Richard Rashke (book)
Reginald Rose
Stanislaw Szmajzner
Starring Alan Arkin
Joanna Pacuła
Rutger Hauer
Hartmut Becker
Jack Shepherd
Narrated by Howard K. Smith
Music by Georges Delerue
Cinematography Ernest Vincze
Edited by Keith Palmer
Distributed by Zenith Productions
Release dates 12 April 1987 (USA)
Running time 143 minutes (uncut)
120 minutes (edited)
Country United Kingdom / Yugoslavia
Language English

Escape from Sobibor is a 1987 British made-for-TV film which aired on CBS.[1] It is the story of the mass escape from the extermination camp at Sobibor, the most successful uprising by Jewish prisoners of German extermination camps (uprisings also took place at Auschwitz and Treblinka). The film was directed by Jack Gold and shot in Avala, Yugoslavia (now Serbia).

On 14 October 1943, members of the camp's underground resistance succeeded in covertly killing eleven German SS-Totenkopfverbände officers and a number of Sonderdienst Ukrainian and Volksdeutsche guards. Of the 600 inmates in the camp, roughly 300 escaped, although all but 50 - 70 were later re-captured and killed.[2] After the escape, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler order the death camp closed. It was dismantled, bulldozed under the earth, and planted over with trees to cover it up.

The screenplay was based on the book of the same name written by the American author, Richard Rashke.[3] Alan Arkin, Joanna Pacuła and Rutger Hauer were the primary stars of the film. Hauer received a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Television). Thomas Blatt, a camp survivor who had assisted Rashke with his book, served as a technical consultant.

Synopsis[edit]

Rutger Hauer in 'Escape from Sobibor'

The film begins with a new trainload of Polish Jews arriving for processing at Sobibor. The German Commandant gives them a welcoming speech, assuring the new arrivals that the place is a work camp. Other SS officers move along the assembled lines of prisoners, selecting a small number who have trade skills such as shoemakers, tailors, seamstresses and goldsmiths. The rest of the prisoners are sent away to a different part of the camp from which a pillar of smoke rises day and night. It is some time before the new prisoners realize that Sobibor is a death camp and that all of the other Jews are exterminated in gas chambers and their corpses cremated in large ovens. The small number of prisoners who are kept alive in the other part of the camp are charged with sorting the belongings taken from those who are murdered and then repairing the shoes, recycling the clothing and melting down any silver and gold to make jewelry for the SS officers. Despite their usefulness, their existence is precarious and beatings and executions can occur at any time. Wagner is the most clever and sadistic of the German officers. When two prisoners escape from a work detail in the nearby forest, Wagner forces the remaining 13 prisoners of the work gang to each select one other prisoner to die with them and then executes all 26.

The leader of the prisoners, Leon Feldhendler, realizes that when the trains eventually stop coming, the camp will have outlived its usefulness and all the remaining Jews will be executed. He comes up with a plan for every prisoner to escape, by luring the SS officers and NCOs into the prisoner's barracks and work huts one by one and killing them as quietly as possible. Once all of the Germans are dead, the prisoners will assemble into columns and simply march out of the camp as if they have been ordered to, and it is hoped that the Ukrainian Guards, not knowing what is going on and with no Germans left alive to give orders or raise the alarm, will not interfere. A new group of prisoners arrive, Russian Jews who were soldiers with the Soviet army. Their leader, Perchersky, and his men willingly join the revolt, their military skills proving invaluable.

The Camp Commandant leaves for several days, taking Wagner with him and this proves an advantage as the most cunning of the SS officers will be absent from Sobibor. On 14 October 1943, the plan goes into action. One by one, SS officers and NCOs are lured into traps set by groups of prisoners armed with knives and clubs. Eleven Germans are killed but one officer, Karl Frenzel, unwittingly evades his killers and he discovers the corpse of one of his colleagues, raising the alarm. By now, the prisoners have assembled on the parade ground and, realizing the plan has been discovered, Perchersky and Feldhendler urge the prisoners to revolt and flee the camp. Most of the 600 prisoners stampede for the perimeter fences, some of the Jews using captured rifles to shoot their way through the Ukrainian guards. Other guards open fire with heavy machine-guns from observation-towers, cutting many of the fleeing prisoners down and other would-be escapees are killed on the minefield surrounding the camp. But over 300 Jews reach the forest and escape.

As the survivors flee deeper into the forest, a voice-over narrator tells of the experiences and fates that befell some of the survivors whose accounts the film was based on. Of the 300 prisoners who escaped, only approximately 50 survived to see the end of the war in 1945. Perchersky makes it back to Soviet lines and rejoins the Red Army, surviving the war. Feldhendler lives to see the end of the war but is killed shortly afterwards in a clash with anti-Semitic Poles. After the uprising, the largest escape from a prison camp of any kind in Europe during WW2, Sobibor was bulldozed to the ground and trees planted on the site to remove any sign of its existence.

Cast[edit]

In credits order.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Although the character wears the rank insignia of a sturmscharführer, he is addressed as "hauptscharführer" throughout. Wagner held the lower rank of oberscharführer.
  2. ^ The character wears the collar patches of a scharführer and the epaulettes of a hauptscharführer, but is addressed by the actual Frenzel's correct rank of oberscharführer throughout.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Escape from Sobibor (1987)". IMDB. Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  2. ^ Schelvis, Jules. Sobibor: A History of a Nazi Death Camp. Berg, Oxford & New Cork, 2007, p. 168, ISBN 978-1-84520-419-8.
  3. ^ Rashke, Richard (1983/1995 second edition). Escape from Sobibor. University of Illinois Press. p. 416. ISBN 978-0252064791.  Check date values in: |date= (help)

External links[edit]