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Film / Escape from Sobibór

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Escape from Sobibór is a 1987 British Made-for-TV Movie that dramatizes the 1943 escape of over three hundred prisoners from the Sobibór 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. There were plans for a sequel, following the escapees of the camp trying to survive until the Allied victory in Europe, but it was canceled due to a negative reaction from the Ukranian government, over their perceived negative portrayal in the form of collaborating guards.

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Escape from Sobibór contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Awful Truth: Moses discovers this about the camp when he sees the gas chambers for the first time.
  • At Least I Admit It: Hurst is a sadistic bigot but he seems to have no illusions about what their doing, speaking sarcastically about how their doing their duty and how it takes heroism to turn on a gas valve.
  • Badass Longcoat: Sacha and several Russian prisoners wear ones.
  • Based on a True Story:
  • 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 it to the forest — and those were the ones that survived the initial escape. Only sixty 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).
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  • Blatant Lies: Blatant to the audience, anyway. The Nazis tell all new arrivals that they're being sent to the "showers" for decontamination.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Deconstructed with the Kapos; Kapo Berliner provides the most straight example. Others though are good men who help their fellow prisoners, with the privileges which they use for aiding the escape. The rest at least don't stand in its way.
  • Composite Character:
    • Some of Kapo Porchek's actions during the escape were actually done by his brother (another prisoner) in real-life according to the book.
    • There's also only one guard named Wolfe when in real life there were two brothers with that name at the camp.
    • Sholmo saves the lives of a cousin and nephew along with his brother Moses in real-life but Moses has the role of all three.
  • 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.
  • Death by Materialism: The prisoners use a fancy leather coat to lure one SS guard into a trap. They even use the coat to restrain him while they're killing him.
  • 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".
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: One of the Nazi officers expresses relief that his wife and children escaped the latest British bombing of Hamburg.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Sergeant Wagner; Captain Reichleitner.
  • Gas Chamber: The film's Awful Truth, a means by which most of the murdered prisoners die.
  • 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 (actually only 13 tried to escape; the other 13 were randomly selected to die to further dissuade any future escape attempts) 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: Over half the prisoners of Sobibor manage to escape by killing the SS guards and seizing weapons, despite it being discovered, with many killed. It's renowned for being most successful of all escapes from the Nazi death camps.
  • Heroic BSoD: Itzhak goes through this when told of his family's death. He snaps out of it.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: When the guards demand thirteen people be executed along with the 13 attempted escapees, and force the escapees to pick them, there's one man who steps forward from the crowd without being picked, to save someone else's life, and keep one of the escapees from having to make such an awful choice.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Itzhak motions for his wife to claim to be a seamstress in the lien and for a moment it looks like she (and maybe their son) will be saved but the guards pass over her due to her young child and send them to the gas chambers with the others.
    • When the prisoners on a wood cutting detail here shoots that two men (who were by the river getting water and do manage to get away clean) have gotten away several of them try to make a run for it themselves, even though the guards are more alert at the moment and their inside the fence (although the gate is open). The Kapo are smart enough to grab a few men and stop them from running and those who try are caught and executed along with several others to make an example.
  • Foreshadowing: In a scene cut from the uncut version, Morris the carpenter suggests making some ladders for the escape and they turn up in the climax, being used to make it over sections of the fence.
  • How Dare You Die on Me!: Leon is visibly distraught that several people are too worn down to try and run during the escape attempt and spends several seconds racing along them vainly trying to prod them to run.
  • 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 stabbed to death. The local courts ruled it a suicide.
  • Kick the Dog: Quite often (sometimes in the form of slicing dogs on prisoners) but one sad example is the thirteen woodcutters caught trying to escape are forced to each pick the man who will be executed with them as an example. When they try to refuse their told that far more people will be executed unless they go and pick thirteen more people to be killed personally. And then they add that any prisoner who looks away during the execution will be shot with the 26.
  • Killed Offscreen: Several prominent characters, such as Balje, Porchek and Mundek the tailor are shot off-screen during the escape, with their bodies just being seen lying on the ground briefly as things die down.
  • The Lancer: Samuel is Leon's most trusted ally and advisor at the start of the film, although once the Russian arrive Sascha arguably supplants him in that role.
  • 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.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Sergeant Beckmann is walking towards the baracks (where a trap is waiting) when he pauses and then walks in the opposite direction. He isn't aware of the escape attempt at the time, but why he avoids falling into the trap is unclear.
  • 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.
  • Say Your Prayers: At least one prisoner who chooses to stand and wait for death rather than running for the fence during the escape attempt is reciting a prayer.
  • Slave Mooks: The Kapos. Also to a certain extent the Ukrainian guards.note 
  • Smart People Play Chess: Leon and several of his friends hang around a chessboard on occasion.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Strauss plays over loudspeakers while people are marched to the "showers."
  • Suddenly SHOUTING!: Courtesy of Sergeant Wagner.
    Wagner: "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...)
  • Uncertain Doom: Of the three men who try to run away from the camp in the first scene one is blown up by a mien and the guards are seen firing after the other two but (at least in some cuts of the film) it’s never confirmed they gunned the two down before they reached the trees.
  • Unrelated in the Adaptation: Leon and another prisoner, Esther, are cousins by marriage but this is never mentioned in the film.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: There's a certain gap between number of confirmed prisoners who died during or after the escape and the number absolutely confirmed to have survived the war. Of the characters in the film Luka and Moses might have survived but it seems unlikely given that they never had themselves known or tried to contact anyone else after the war.
  • 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
  • Whip It Good: One of the guards orders Sholmo and Moses to make a gold engraving of a twisted snake on the handle of his whip.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Sergeant Wagner shoots Naomi's baby after killing her. In addition to that there is an agonizing number of lose-ups of oblivious little kids getting off the troop transport at the beginning, soon to be gassed without any qualms.
  • You Killed My Father: Inverted: Itzhak quietly states "My wife and child..." 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.
  • Zerg Rush: The final escape has the inmates charging at the guards in masse and knocking down the fences.

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