Sobibor: a movie review by Toni Susskind

November 22, 2018 by Toni Susskind
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A highlight of the 2018 Jewish International Film Festival, Sobibor was a box office hit in Russia, taking in over $2 million in ticket sales.

A scene from Sobibor

Based on true-life events, the movie explores a dark time in history, when people were rounded up and sent to death camps merely for being Jewish.

The two-hour Russian language movie, which was partially funded by the Russian government, is about the lead up to and the subsequent escape, of several hundred prisoners from the death camp Sobibor in 1943.

The movie features well-known Russian actor, Konstantin Khabenskiy, who directed, and played the central character, Alexander Perchesky, a Jewish Russian soldier that led the revolt. Christopher Lambert who may be better recognised for his Highlander movies in the 1980s, portrays the emotionally stunted Karl Frenzel, the head of the death camp. His restrained performance evokes the feeling that Frenzel is a man on the edge of madness. Our first indication of his mental state is early on in the movie when new arrivals are led to the gas chambers. The man watches in fascination as the women breathe in the gas and die. He neither moves nor shows emotion, waiting until every last person is deceased before leaving his post, to resume his everyday duties.

Sobibor is also a commentary on the passivity of people and the evils of mankind. Do we sit down and hope that our aggressors will leave us alone, or do we take the risk and fight for our rights? When people first arrived in Sobibor, the Germans ensured their passivity by telling them that their stay was to be a short one and they would soon be relocated onto a better place. During the film, people were murdered, raped and treated worse than vermin, yet, many chose to believe that the Nazi’s would let them go eventually.  Even when several hundred people escaped from the death camp, 150 elected to stay behind, hoping that they would not feel the wrath of the Nazi’s. Those 150 were eliminated within days.

It has been 75 years since the break-out from the Nazi concentration camp and Sobibor is the only successful camp uprising. 11 SS officers were killed and 300 people plus people escaped, however, only 53 avoided being murdered by the locals and Nazi’s. Yet the movie is still an ode to the fighting spirit of people.

As Benjamin Netanyahu once said so eloquently “There were those who thought that [Sobibor] was our history’s rock bottom, when in fact it marked the opposite: Our will to never surrender to those who want to destroy us.”

The underlying message of the movie is just that. Never surrender. Never forget.



One Response to “Sobibor: a movie review by Toni Susskind”
  1. Louis Petrovsky says:

    The escape from Sobibor was not the only successful escape from a Nazi camp. A few months earlier (August 1943) there was a mass escape from Treblinka, the largest of Sobibor’s two sister extermination camps that were the focus of Operation Reinhardt. Expert estimates vary: the number of escapees ranges from 200 to 400 and the number of those who survived to the end of WWII ranges from 100 to 200, compared wth the approximately 300 who escaped across Sobibor’s fences and the approximately 45 – 50 who survived to the end of the war.

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