Film: Escape from Sobibor

Escape from Sobibor is a 1987 British made-for-TV film that dramatizes the 1943 escape of over three hundred prisoners from the Sobibor extermination camp. Inmates who were selectively spared for their skills in manufacturing material goods plot their escape from the camp, in part utilizing the skills they possess to make it happen. The film stars stars Alan Arkin and Rutger Hauer; it is based on the book of the same written by Richard Rashke, and camp survivor Thomas Blatt (who helped Rashke with his book) served as a consultant.


Escape from Sobibor contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Awful Truth: Moses discovers this about the camp when he sees the gas chambers for the first time.
  • Bearer of Bad News: Leon and Samuel have to tell Itzhak that his wife and son were murdered shortly after they arrived. He doesn't take it well.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Out of the six hundred prisoners that the camp's underground intended to help escape, only three hundred made into the forests — and those were the ones that survived the initial escape. Only fifty or so of those escapees were confirmed to have survived the war. The vast majority died in the weeks following the escape; they were either caught by German search squads, handed over to the Germans by Polish collaborators (if not outright killed by the latter), or vanished without a trace (e.g. Luka and Moses).
  • Blatant Lies: The Nazis tell all new arrivals that they're being sent to the "showers" for decontamination.
  • Concentration Camp: The primary, very unfriendly setting.
  • Conveniently Timed Guard: One of the guards goes into a senior officer's office and discovers him by spotting blood and following its trail. This marks the turning point of the escape when they had previously gotten along without widespread discovery.
  • Defiant to the End: Naomi spits at Wagner's offer to spare her while killing her baby, both figuratively and literally. She holds her baby and smiles in defiance as he shoots her.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: Rooms full of possessions belonging to the people sent to the "shower."
  • Faux Affably Evil: Sergeant Wagner; Captain Reichleitner
  • Gas Chamber
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The film uses this whenever a character is murdered. One exception is when the Nazis execute 26 prisoners for trying to escape and tell the others that anyone who averts his/her eyes will be executed. The scene is shot from a long range, though.
  • Great Escape
  • Heroic BSOD: Itzhak goes through this when told of his family's death. He snaps out of it.
  • Karma Houdini: Largely averted by the camp guards, who were either killed later during the war or prosecuted at various points after the war.
    • Sergeant Wagner was found in hiding in Brazil. The Brazilian government refused to extradite him, but he was eventually found dead with a knife embedded in his chest. The local courts ruled it a suicide.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Deconstructed with the Kapos; Kapo Berliner provides the most straight example.
  • Oh, Crap: The Nazi guards' reactions to the uprising.
    • Also the leaders of the revolt when SS reinforcements unexpectedly arrive at the camp on the planned day of the escape. They are forced to postpone the escape until the next day.
  • Released to Elsewhere: The Nazis try this, but the prisoners selected to work learn the truth pretty quickly.
  • Rousing Speech: Leon and Sasha give one to the prisoners just before they break out.
  • Sadistic Choice: After a group of prisoners is caught trying to escape, Sergeant Wagner not only has them publicly executed, but he forces each of them to choose a "partner" from the audience to die with them. He threatens to have fifty random prisoners executed if they don't obey.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Strauss plays over loudspeakers while people are marched to the "showers."
  • Suddenly Shouting: "There will be no more escape attempts in this camp. I'll repeat that: THERE WILL BE NO MORE ESCAPE ATTEMPTS IN THIS CAMP!"
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The main antagonists. (Though "wacky" may not exactly be the right word here...)
  • Truth in Television: Indeed.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Schlomo calls out the other prisoners for working for the people who killed their families. Leon responds with I Did What I Had to Do.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue
  • Would Hurt a Child: Sergeant Wagner shoots Naomi's baby after killing her.
  • You Killed My Father: Inverted: One of the inmates quietly states "My family.." before hitting an elderly guard in the head with an axe. Subverted with the Szmajzner brothers, who are motivated in their escape by anger at the Nazis for their families deaths, but don't state this before taking down the guards.