A gripping tale of captivity during the Holocaust which tows the line subtly between being engaging and off-putting, and sees a stellar cast highlighting the plight of hundreds of innocents waiting to die.
As the title suggests, the film is based in the Sobibor death camp during World War II, and is based on true events. In 1943, another train packed with Jews from around Poland arrives at Sobibor, and they are divided into groups for immediate processing – if you’ve watched any Holocaust movies or read about the death camps before you will be familiar with these scenes. Tricked into believing that it is a temporary work camp, those with a particular skill such as tailors or goldsmiths are sent to one side, everyone else is sent to the gas chambers. The survivors are put to work and are subject to random beatings, punishment, and live in terrible conditions. Yet still there is hope, as some of those survivors begin to plot any sort of uprising or escape. It is clear that the survivors are treated as little more than temporary slaves and that once they have outlived their usefulness, they will be executed. Alan Arkin stars as the leader of the revolt, conspiring with an intelligent and strong new arrival – Rutger Hauer’s veteran soldier.
The plan is risky and based on blind hope, but the best they could have possibly hoped for. The camp isn’t huge and there are not very many actual Nazi’s present. The prisoners hope that if they can trap and kill the Nazi officers, that the Ukranian prison guards will not care enough and simply allow the prisoners to leave. For this to work though, everyone has to be on board and some prisoners will take convincing. There are plenty of shocking events and emotional moments without sentiment – the realization of what the chimneys represent, one young boy trying to run out of his queue leading to the gas chamber, the inevitable conclusion to the story of a mother and her baby who had been hiding, and the result of a previous attempted escape as each escapee is forced to choose someone to be shot with them.
As mentioned, the cast here are very good, dealing with some of the most horrible things anyone has had to endure let alone imagine. Many of the faces you won’t recognise, a few you will, but their deeds will stay with you. These sorts of films have more impact when they don’t contain a bunch of stars, just great actors with memorable faces who are capable of generating empathy. The film is not bloody, nor does it need to be. The writing is fine, based on recollections of genuine conversations, and the direction is solid. As we watch the prisoners running for their lives at the end, as we watch some get mowed down by bullets, run free, or head into a minefield, it is all the more heartbreaking knowing that these events happened and that history has a habit of repeating itself. Where there are humans, there is hope and despair, good and evil in varying degrees – when will we tip the balance so far to the good side that evil will finally slip off and drown?
Let us know in the comments what you thought of Escape From Sobibor and what other Prison Camp movies have made an impact on you.