Escape from Sobibor  (1987) 

 

 

 

 

Director:  Jack Gold.

Starring: Alan Arkin (Leon Feldhendler), Joanna Pacula (Luka), Rutger Hauer (Alexander 'Sasha' Pechersky), Hartmut Becker (Sgt. Gustav Wagner), Jack Shepherd (Itzhak Lichtman), Emil Wolk (Samuel), Simon Gregor (Stanislaw 'Shlomo' Szmajzner), Linal Haft (Oberkapo Porchek), Jason Norman (Thomas 'Toivi' Blatt), Robert Gwilym (Chaim Engel), Eli Nathenson (Moses Szmajzner), Kurt Raab (Sgt. Frenzel), Eric P. Caspar (Capt. Franz Reichleitner), Hugo Bower (Sgt. Beckmann), Klaus Grünberg (Sgt. Bauer), Wolfgang Bathke (Sgt. Hurst), Henning Gissel (Sgt. Fallaster), Henry Stolow (Lt. Niemann), Ullrich Haupt (Sgt. Wolf), Patti Love (Eda), Judith Sharp (Bajle), Ellis Van Maarseveen (Selma Wijnberg), David Miller (Mundek), Jack Chissick (Hershel), Ned Vukovic (Morris), Sara Sugarman (Naomi), Peter Jonfield (Kapo Sturm), Dijana Krzanic (Esther Terner), Irfan Mensur (Kalimali), Zoran Stojiljkovic (Boris), Svetolik Nikacevic (Old Man), Mihailo 'Misa' Janketic (Kapo Berliner), Dejan Cavic (Kapo Spitz), Zlatan Fazlagic (Weiss), Predrag Milinkovic (Kapo Jacob), Howard K. Smith (Narrator).

Made for TV movie. 

the biggest and most successful escape of Jewish inmates from a death camp

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

1942. S.S. chief Himmler began Operation Reinhardt to implement the Final Solution for the Jewish problem. On the eastern Polish border were three death camps. Treblinka was located northeast of Warsaw. Belzec was on the southeastern border and Sobibor was in the east. Sobibor was where the biggest and most successful prisoner revolt in World War II took place (October 14, 1943).

The whistle is blown for the inmates to come together in the middle of the camp. Three men tell Leo that they are working on the vegetable plot and they will make a run for it. They do make a run for it but they are all shot by the guards.

Leo is one of the inmates who waits to assist the new prisoners getting off the trains. The German in charge tells the greeters to smile when the prisoners arrive. The Germans wants everything to go smoothly. The Blue Danube Waltz is played on the phonograph.

As the train arrives the people beg for water. The greeters help the newly arrived off the train. For certain people they tell them to tell the Germans that they know a trade. The men and women are separated into two different groups.

The call goes out for shoemakers, seamstresses, tailors, shoemakers and other trades. Many of those told to volunteer say they know various trades. The pretty Luka and Naomi volunteer as seamstresses. They are placed in a separate group. Luka is told not to get Sgt. Wagner angry.

A few of the Jews worked as Sonderkommandos overseeing the operation of the gas chambers and the burning of the cadavers.

In the barracks Leon and Samuel talk to the newly arrived Itzhak about forming an escape group. But Itzhak is primarily concerned about his family in the camp. This is when Leon has to tell him that Sobibor is a death camp. Itzhak breaks down when he realizes that his family is dead.

A few of the S.S. speak about the pretty Luka, but one of them reminds the others that there is to be no sex with Jewish filth. Another SS man mentions the deaths of the inmates and is scolded not to speak of this in front of the young Jewish servants. One of these servants is knocked to the ground and then transferred to work with the goldsmiths. Sgt. Bauer asks the goldsmiths to make him a gold piece for the handle of his whip. He also tells the former house servant to come get him around 8 ‘clock tomorrow morning.

The distraught Itzhak is comforted by a woman inmate that also lost her entire family. The next morning the former servant goes to fetch Sgt. Bauer. He heads over to the "Disinfektion" section where no inmates are allowed. The guard lets the inmate into the area. There he gets a real eyeful. He sees the women and girls heading into a shed where they disrobe, another group of females all naked headed into a gas chamber and then a huge pile of cadavers. He realizes the full horror of what is going on in the camp. After delivering his message to Sgt. Bauer, the boy runs back to the goldsmith shop. He tells the others what he saw. The goldsmith now realizes that his family is dead. And now all he wants is revenge.

The goldsmith confronts Leon as to why he cooperates with the death machine. Leon tells him that they do it to survive. He adds that every day is an agony of conscience but "What is there to do but survive?" Furthermore "We survive for revenge and someday we will have it."

Sgt. Wagner checks on the seamstresses and discovers that Naomi has a baby in the shop. He tells Naomi that there are no babies at Sobibor. Naomi becomes defiant and tells Wagner to let her have her baby. She protests so much that Wagner shoots dead both her and the baby.

Another day Dutch Jews arrive at the death camp. They are of a higher social class, are well dressed and well behaved. One of the Germans says that these Dutch will behave themselves and therefore the day is going to be an easy one for the guards. The greeters actually give each of the new inmates a baggage check number.

Two inmates are taken to get water with only one man guarding them. They hit the guard in the head with one of their pales and then kick him in the head knocking him out. They take his weapons and make a run for it. The alarm goes out about the escape but the young men are not found. In the confusion thirteen other inmates try to make their escape, but they are stopped.

The S.S. response to the escape and the attempted escapes is to line up the thirteen men who tried to escape in front of the entire camp. They are to be shot along with thirteen other inmates who will be selected by each of the thirteen would-be escapees. They at first refuse to go, but Sgt. Wagner says if they do not pick out thirteen, he will select 50 inmates to be shot along with the original group of thirteen. Each man picks out an inmate. They all line up and are shot down by a man with a machine gun on a tripod.

Leo tells his fellow conspirators that there will be a meeting at 8 p.m. At the meeting he tells his fellow inmates that if just a few of them escape all the inmates will be killed. Therefore, all 600 inmates will make the escape attempt. The others are shocked by the boldness of the idea.

A group of Jewish-Russian soldiers are transferred to Sobibor. They are to do heavy labor in the north camp. Their leader is known as Sasha for short. He tells Leo that the Russian troops are still about 600 to 700 miles away from Sobibor and adds that "We must help ourselves." Sasha wants to know the number of S.S. men (16) and Ukrainian guards (125).

Luka volunteers to pretend to be in love with Sasha so he has a reason to keep coming over to Leo’s barracks to talk. In the talks Sasha tells Leon that all 600 inmates will just walk out the front gate. Leon is a bit taken aback, but he is interested in the idea. They agree to make a plan for the entire 600 plus the Russian soldiers.

Different men are assigned to killing one or more of all the S.S. men. All sixteen of them must be killed in one hour between 4 and 5 p.m. Some dangerous Ukrainian guards must also be liquidated. The plotters get one of the kapos (men who work to keep the inmates in line so to speak) to help them. The inmates make lots of home-made knives and some get their hands on a few weapons.

Luka sees Sasha and she makes it clear that she has fallen in love with him. Sasha tells her that he has a wife and a daughter that he loves very much. Luka wants to know why he did not mention this earlier.

On the day of the planned escape the inmates start carrying out the assassinations of the various S.S. men and a few Ukrainian guards one by one. Luka gives a shirt she made to Luka to wear as a good luck charm. He agrees to wear it. The electricity and phone lines are cut. But soon after the inmates all gather together for roll call, one of the dead S.S. bodies is discovered. The alarm goes out. Leo and Sasha tell the inmates that now it is every man for himself.

The inmates start rushing the gates. The Ukrainian guards kill a few of them, but they are soon overwhelmed and killed. The largest damage is done to the escapees is by a few machine gunners up in the guard houses. But over 300 of the 600 manage to escape.

At the end of the movie, what happened to a few of the survivors is told.

Itzhak and his girlfriend married and later moved to Israel.

The boy serving the S.S. men now lives in Santa Barbara, California.

The couple Selma and Chaim married and live in Connecticut.

The hot-headed inmate who lived for revenge on the S.S. fought alongside the Partisans and then emigrated to Brazil. In 1978 he discovered Sgt. Wagner. Wagner could not be extradited, but one day he was found dead, stabbed. His death was ruled a suicide.

Esther Terner testified against S.S. guard Sgt. Bauer. She lives in New Jersey.

Sasha testified against a number of Ukrainian guards at Sobibor. He now lives with his wife on Rostov on the Don.

Luka simply vanished.  The shirt Luka made for Sasha is now on display in a Russian military museum.

Leon opened a small business and employed quite a few death camp survivors, including some from Sobibor. Fourteen months after his escape he was murdered by some anti-Semites for being Jewish.

More than a quarter of a million people were murdered at Sobibor. After the big escape, Himmler closed the camp, had it dismantled and a pine grove planted where the camp once stood. At the site of the death camp, there is a monument to the dead and to the valiant fighters of Sobibor. Such an escape would never happen again.

 

Good movie.  It dutifully describes the horrors of the death camps, but this time something different happens.  The Jewish inmates kill almost all the SS men and many of the Ukrainian guards and half of the 600 are able to escape into the woods.  Many of the survivors went on to live in countries like Israel, the United States and Brazil.  It felt good to see the inmates get a bit of revenge on their German captors.  The movie keeps your interest throughout.  Recommended.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

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