Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Escape from a Nazi Death Camp: Sobibor Remembered on PBS
broadcast in 1987, Escape from Sobibor
still holds up, even though TV movies were not expected to be much good at that
time. Not surprisingly, the conditions in the concentration camp and the
circumstances of the historic break-out were considerably more brutal than
network standards would then allow. The last survivors of Sobibor return to
tell their stories in Escape from a Nazi
Death Camp (promo
airs on participating PBS stations this Tuesday, as part of a month of special
World War II programming.
only successful mass escape from a concentration camp happened at Sobibor.
Success should be considered a relative term. The mortality rate amongst
escaping prisoners was tragically low, but at least there were survivors.
Unlike other camps, Sobibor was set up solely to function as a death factory. Only
a skeletal contingent of prisoners stayed on to perform menial labor. When word
reached them of the National Socialists’ plan to completely liquidate the camp,
they realized their days, as precarious as they were, would soon come to a
decisive end. However, the Germans made a critical mistake when they
transferred a handful of battle-hardened Jewish Red Army soldiers to Sobibor.
Amongst them was Alexander Pechersky, a natural leader so steely, he had to be
played by Rutger Hauer in the telefilm.
just an hour in length, Escape provides
a lucid chronicle of the escape planning, with some telling details added by
survivors Thomas “Toivi” Blatt, Philip Bialowitz, Selma Engel-Wijnberg and
former Russian POW Semjon Rozenfled. It clearly was not what you would call a foolproof
escape plan, but it was better than nothing. There are indeed a number of
important lessons that can be gleaned from this historical episode, including
the Germans’ indifference to the “execution” of the despised Kapo Berliner,
which rather suggestions collaboration is not such a good long term survival
strategy. In fact, it dramatically illustrates the efficacy of defiance.
Escape (not to be confused with Nova’s Escape from Nazi Alcatraz, which aired a few days ago) was obviously intended as a television
special, which is perfectly fine, especially considering that is exactly how
most viewers will watch it. The re-enactment sequences sometimes come across a
bit awkwardly, but the actor playing Berliner makes a fierce impression. Well
focused overall, it balances the big picture history with the intimate personal
stories rather nicely. Recommended for general audiences, most certainly
including students, Escape from a Nazi
Death Camp airs this coming Tuesday (5/20) on most PBS outlets nationwide.