Movie Review: Sobibor

The largest successful escape from a Nazi death camp

Sobibor is a 2018 Russian war drama film co-written, directed by and starring Konstantin Khabensky. The movie, also starring Christopher Lambert, was released in Russia in May of 2018. This film was selected as the Russian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards but was not nominated.

The film is based on the true story of a 1943 uprising in the Sobibor extermination camp in German-occupied Poland. The main character of the movie is the Soviet-Jewish soldier Alexander Pechersky, a lieutenant in the Soviet army. In October 1943, Pechersky was captured by the Nazis and deported to the Sobibor death camp, where Jews were being exterminated in gas chambers. In less than a month, Alexander was able to plan an international uprising of prisoners from Poland and Western Europe. This uprising resulted in the only successful large-scale escape of prisoners from a Nazi death camp during the war.

Approximately four hundred prisoners escaped the death camp, while about one hundred died in the attempt. Of the four hundred who escaped, about one hundred and fifty were rounded up by the locals and turned back over to the Nazis. The prisoners who remained in the camp as well as those returned to the camp were shortly “liquidated” because of the advancing Soviet army. The Nazis needed to get rid of the evidence.

My thoughts …

This is not the sort of movie you really want to say, “I enjoyed.” However, it was fascinating, and it was very well done. I have seen a few Russian films in the past, including Alexander Nevsky (1938) and Ivan the Terrible (1944), and they do have a knack for creating gritty, depressing films that seem to highlight the centuries of struggle and deprivation that is life in Russia. In that regard, this film does not disappoint.

This film is in Russian with English subtitles. Not a problem for me. I’d rather that than have the movie dubbed over in English and actor’s lip movements not match the words. Just a pet peeve of mine …

I have also read a lot of non-fiction about Hitler’s Third Reich, its treatment of “non-Aryans” and other non-desirables, as well as the atrocities of the SS. I think this film very accurately portrays the callous indifference of the SS, their lack of any moral conscience, and penchant for sadistic brutality. The fact that the SS (as well as Hitler himself) was fed a diet of methamphetamine, which kept them energetic, oblivious to all but the most severe injuries or pain, and erased any sense of humanity they may have had is clearly shown.

I also liked how the film portrayed the differences in strategies of the camp’s inmates in trying to survive. Of course, you had the kapos, the inmates who turned on their own and served their Nazi masters by helping them run the camp. Then you had those who, despite all the evidence, refused to accept what was going on, clinging to the false hope that compliance would lead to survival. And finally, you had those who saw clearly what was happening, and that, short of the war ending and Germany losing, the only way to survive was to escape.

If you would not, or could not, watch Schindler’s List, this is not a movie for you. It is also not a movie for young children. However, if World War II history, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, heroic efforts, and the fact that real evil does exist in the world are topics that intrigue you, this may be a film for you. I tend to be one of the latter because I truly believe that people who forget history tend to repeat it.

I give this film 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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