Escape from Sobibor Review

SS Sonderkommando Sobibor was a Nazi extermination camp in Eastern Poland, not far from the Russian border. Along with camps at Belzec and Treblinka, it was set up by Heinrich Himmler as part of Operation Reinhard, the Nazi's plan to murder Polish Jews. On 14 October 1943 there took place the most successful uprising of the War, and half of the six hundred prisoners escaped into the nearby woods. Escape from Sobibor is that story.

It begins with a group of Polish prisoners transported to the camp. Leon Feldheldner (Alan Arkin) is one of them. It soon becomes clear that the prisoners' time is likely to be short and the priority would be to escape. An initial attempt fails, and the Commandant executes one prisoner for each one who tried to escape. It soon becomes clear that for any attempt to work, all six hundred prisoners will have to escape at once. Leon enlists the help of Sasha Pechersky (Rutger Hauer), the leader of a group of Russian POWs in the camp.

Escape from Sobibor was a British-made TV film, shot in then Yugoslavia (now Serbia). It was premiered on the ITV network in the UK, in a three-hour time slot including commercial breaks. I'm not aware of another British TV showing, though the film has had a video release. In the US, it's been available on public-domain labels in a version cut down to two hours. However, it's a film that needs and sustains its longer running time. Reginald Rose's script is well paced. Jack Gold's direction is a little pedestrian, but the final escape is very well staged. There are committed performances from Arkin and Hauer (who was just at the point in his career when he would waste his talent on films unworthy of him), also Joanna Pacula as a prisoner asked to pose as Sasha's girlfriend to give him an alibi. A strong supporting cast is made up mainly of British and Yugoslav actors, including future director Sara Sugarman in a small role.

Being a television film, Escape from Sobibor steers clear from anything too graphic, though it is still strong enough to earn a 15 certificate. Also, none of the cast could really pass for an emaciated concentration camp inmate. Even so, there are scenes which viewers might find upsetting. But the film ends on a up note, with the escaping prisoners running into the woods, machine guns firing after them and mines exploding. Along with a similar escape at Treblinka, this was the biggest prisoner uprising of the war. As a final voiceover says, not all of the three hundred who escaped had a happy later life (Leon Feldheldner among them) but best to leave them in their moment of victory at the end of an often harrowing but gripping film.


Escape from Sobibor is released by Network on a single disc encoded for Regions 2 and 4.

As this is an Eighties TV movie, the DVD transfer is in the original ratio of 1.33:1, so no anamorphic enhancement is necessary. Presumably because this was a small-screen project, Ernest Vincze's camerawork doesn't go in for extremes of darkness: even the night scenes are well lit. Still, the colours seem accurate, and a slight softness may be intentional. (I did see Escape from Sobibor on its original broadcast, but on a black and white television.)

The soundtrack is mono, as the film was originally. It's a professional job of work, with dialogue, sound effects and Georges Delerue's music score all well balanced. There are no subtitles, which is regrettable.

There are a couple of extras, though nothing too exciting. “Textless material” (3:20) are the opening and closing credits sequences, without the credits – and mute as well. The other extra is a self-navigating stills gallery, running 1:12.

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