March 4, 2019

Lessons in Escape from Sobibor

Lessons in Escape from Sobibor

By Osa Mbonu,
Arts Editor

Before the German Jews arrived Sobibor, a concentration camp similar to the notorious Auschwitz, there were visible progressive descent into that condition. When the Jews finally found themselves in Sobibor, there arose an argument whether they should take a bold step towards freedom or remain passive for peace to reign.


Escape from Sobibor is a 1987 British television film which was shown on CBS. 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. Similar uprisings also took place at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka.

The film was directed by Jack Gold and shot in Avala, Yugoslavia (now Serbia) while the manuscript was written by Thomas Blatt, adapted from Richard Rashke’s book by the same name, Escape from Sobibor, and Stanislaw Szmajzner’s book, Inferno in Sobibor.

Actors in Escape from Sobibor include Alan Arkin, Joanna PacuBa, Rutger Hauer, Hartmut Becker and Jack Shepherd. The narrator is Howard K. Smith.

The film has a historical base. Faced with the grim certainty that they would all end up dead whether they took action or remained passive, Jews in Germany decided to act. On 14 October 1943, members of the camp’s underground resistance succeeded in covertly killing 11 German SS-Totenkopfverbände officers and a number of Sonderdienst Ukrainian and Volksdeutsche guards.

Out of the 600 Jews detained inside the camp waiting for their deaths, about 300 bid for an escape. Unfortunately, between 50 and 70 of the escapees were later re-captured and killed, but then, that brought the end of that concentration camp. After the escape, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the death camp closed. It was dismantled, bulldozed under the earth, and planted over with trees to cover it up.

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The film received a Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film, and Hauer was awarded a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role—Television Film or Miniseries.

Esther Raab, who died on April 15, 2015, was a camp survivor who had assisted Rashke with his book and served as a technical consultant.

Escape from Sobibor highlights the need for every oppressed or persecuted group of people to take their destiny into their own hands. Dictators like Hitler and those that existed in Nigeria and still exist, have only one plan for their victims – DEATH. Another lesson is that people whose lives are in danger need not wait until when they find themselves in Auschwitz or Sobibor before they make an escape. The best time to escape is before the victims are confined in the concentration camps waiting for execution.

Here, the words of Patrick Henry, “Give me liberty or give me death” should be the attitude of those who have become endangered species in their country. No space should be given to any dictator. As William Lloyd Garrison said:

“With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants, I will give neither no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost.”