After watching "Escape from Sobibor" I know one thing for sure, whenever I hear the "Tales from the Vienna Woods" Waltz by Johann Strauss II I am going to remember some horrific scenes from the movie. It is the music which plays during each scene where we witness more Jews arrive at the Sobibor death camp via train and each scene has something harrowing going on, from the brutality of these innocent people being stuffed in trains like cattle too the cold blooded murder of those who knowingly disobey the orders of the SS. But whilst the music is a trigger there is a lot more to "Escape from Sobibor" which makes it memorable and lifts this made for TV movie to be up there with some of the best big screen movies which deal with the Holocaust and death camps.
Now "Escape from Sobibor" is a movie of two halves and the first half typically sets the scene as it takes us into the death camp and the way of life and it is simply uncomfortable viewing. It is impossible to describe everything but alongside those train scenes we see how the SS officers dish out brutal punishment with an almost sadistic pleasure, we see how some Jews who are skilled are spared but those who are not are sent unwittingly for a shower which as those who are new learn means that they are killed and then incinerated, the giant black cloud of smoke which rises in the sky being a horrific reminder of the constant murder of Jews. A lot of this is uncomfortable viewing be it a scene where an SS officer not only plans to execute 13 men who tried to escape but orders them to pick 13 innocent prisoners to be executed as well as warning to others or when we see a young boy who is spared because he has a trade discover that his family have been killed. You cannot over state the power of this first half and it feels relentless in painting this picture of a brutal life in Sobibor.
But there is the second half and that revolves around the realisation that everyone will have to escape as if anyone is left they will surely be murdered. So we have this dramatization of the true story as a group of prisoners try to lead 600 people to safety by killing the SS Guards one by one till there is not enough of them to be able to stop everyone. It is still very powerful stuff as we watch these Jewish citizens facing having to kill for the first time but as with any escape movie this side is also entertaining. That entertainment comes from how they go about their covert meetings in order to plan and then watching how they execute those plans.
Now I mentioned that "Escape from Sobibor" is a TV movie but I promise you this isn't some cheaply put together movie, the look, the style is all fantastic to the point that as I said it is comparable to some of the big screen Holocaust movies. It also has a fantastic cast which is lead by Alan Arkin, Rutger Hauer and Joanna Pacula who all deliver solid characterisations. Yes some of the accents, especially from the younger cast don't always seem right but the performances and delivery of emotion is first rate.
What this all boils down to is that "Escape from Sobibor" is a great movie let alone a TV movie and manages to not only deliver the horror of the holocaust for those who ended up in a death camp but also bring entertainment when the movie shifts focus from the horrors to the dramatization of the true story of the escape.