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Escape From Sobibor

Escape From SobiborA sad and traumatic but ultimately
  heartening film, Escape From Sobibor
  is a Golden Globe-winning Holocaust
  movie that informs of — but never
  indulges in
the horrors of the death
  camp Sobibor, from where half of the six
  hundred Jews imprisoned under Hitler
  genocide programme managed to break
  out and escape with their lives

IN 1942, SS CHIEF HEINRICH HIMMLER initiated Operation Reinhart, Nazi Germany's 'final solution' to the Jewish question. In Poland, three death camps were built and staffed under top secret orders: Belzec; Treblinka and the most secret Sobibor.

On 14 October 1943, the biggest, most courageous and most successful prisoner revolt in World War II took place in Eastern Poland when hundreds of Jews turned on their captors. Escape From Sobibor is their story and this film is a vital reminder of the truth and the horror of the Holocaust.

A group of Jewish prisoners who have managed to cheat the gas chambers at death camp Sobibor, led by Leon Feldhendler (Oscar-winning Alan Arkin: Little Miss Sunshine) and Samuel Friedberg (Emil Wolk), are conspiring to escape but, having worked up the courage to do so, they hesitate as they will not only have to dodge the guards' bullets but also negotiate a dangerous minefield.

However, tired of waiting, three young men rush towards the fences and the danger beyond — leaving the others to listen to the gunshots and exploding mines and have the memory of the mutilated bodies as a grisly warning.

Despite the tragedy, as yet another train load of prisoners arrives with hands reaching out through the openings of the packed cattle-trucks as they beg for water, everyone is ordered to smile and music plays, giving the impression of a holiday camp.

But the truth is never far away, and as the prisoners whisper to the new arrivals to volunteer and to claim to have a trade, they watch helplessly as the majority are led away to the gas chambers — disguised as showers supposedly to prevent the spread of Typhus.

Keen to stay with their family, the newcomers are upset to find that women and children are separated from the men and boys over 14. They are told Sobibor is a labour camp and the work is hard, but they can little guess at the extent of the suffering there.

Three young women claim to be seamstresses — Naomi (Sara Sugarman), Luka (Joanna Pacula: Gorky Park) and Bajle (Judith Sharp), whose husband is fighting with the partisans and who is hiding a little secret which will get her killed.

Others volunteer to be shoemakers or goldsmiths and when they ask about their families, who are already dead, they are told they are well and happy and working in the fields. Nobody is safe from Nazi brutality and gradually the prisoners have their eyes opened.

After the arrival of a trainload of Dutch Jews, some men take an opportunity to make a bid for freedom. But when they are recaptured, the repercussions are so shocking that a decision is made to take everybody from the camp during the escape rather than leaving anyone behind to face the reprisals from the SS.

When a group of Russian soldiers arrives at the camp, led by Alexander 'Sasha' Pechersky (Rutger Hauer: Bladerunner), there appears to be some hope, but the Russian army is too far away to help and Sasha fabricates a romance with Luka in order to meet Leon and Samuel in the women's barracks where an elaborate and daring escape plan is hatched.

Over a quarter of a million Jews were killed at Sobibor but, of the 600 prisoners planning to escape, over 300 got away safely to the forest. Survivors from the escape acted as consultants on the film and those events are recounted with sharp authenticity. Escape From Sobibor was acclaimed for its accurate portrayal of the uprising and won two Golden Globes in 1987 — Best Motion Picture Made for TV and Best Actor In A Supporting Role (Rutger Hauer).

Alan Arkin, Joanna Pacula and Rutger Hauer head an international cast in this story of great courage, Directed by the BAFTA-winning Jack Gold. Also featured are: Simon Gregor as Stanislaw 'Shlomo' Szmajzner; Linal Haft as Kapo Porchek; Jason Norman as Thomas 'Toivi' Blatt; Robert Gwilym as Chaim Engel; Eli Nathenson as Moses Szmajzner; Henry Stolow as Lt Niemann; Ullrich Haupt as Sgt Wolf; Patti Love as Eda; Elis van Maarseveen as Selma; Peter Jonfield as Kapo Sturm; Hartmut Becker as Sgt Gustav Wagner and Jack Shepherd as Itzhak Lichtman.

The poignant music is by Georges Delerue; Director of Photography is Ernie Vincze; Produced by Dennis E Doty and Teleplay by Reginald Rose. Escape From Sobibor was filmed on location in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and the film is based on the book by Richard Rashke and two unpublished manuscripts — Thomas Blatt's From The Ashes Of Sobibor and Stanislaw Szmajzner's Inferno In Sobibor.

At times heartbreaking and disturbing, Escape From Sobibor is a superb film and a well-paced, tense period thriller benefiting from a fine cast. An escape on such a scale is unique — it had never happened before and was never to happen again in World War II. Within days, Himmler ordered the camp closed, dismantled and the area planted with pine trees. Today a memorial stands as a testament to the events of 14 October 1943.

The Golden Globe-winning Holocaust film Escape From Sobibor is out now for the first time on DVD (released by Network on 26 January, 2009) and is available at all good retailers nationwide. Certificate: 15 | RPP: 12.99 | Running time: 145 Minutes Approx.

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"At times heartbreaking and disturbing, Escape From Sobibor is a superb film and a well-paced, tense period thriller benefiting from a fine cast" — Maggie Woods, MotorBar

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