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Toronto Jewish Film Festival: Sobibor

Concentration Camps in Poland: Source Wikipedia

Sobibor was yet another concentration camp that specialized in gassing Jews to death. It also saw a breakout by some 400 prisoners on October 14, 1943.100 died during the escape attempt. Locals murdered and delivered 150 of the escapees back to the Germans. 50 eluded capture.

Initially the arrivals from Western Europe arrived in decent looking rail cars and many in the film were prosperous looking. There was no great fear or apprehension on their faces. A loudspeaker welcomed them to their new home. A small classical ensemble welcomed them at the station. Then the first load of women was asked to undress and have a disinfecting shower. But no water rather carbon monoxide. This the first of many highly disturbing scenes. It wasn’t long before the brutality of the camp and its German “managers” became a reality for the prisoners.

It is estimated anywhere from 200,000-350,000 Jews were gassed at Sobibor. There are horrific scenes of sadism, beating, murder, gassing and despicable behavior. Can this recreation of Sobibor ever capture its real essence? I doubt it. But there is enough stomach churning evil to give the viewer a hint of what it might feel like.

Then a Russian Red Army Lieutenant Alex Perchersky known as Sasha (and played by Director Khabenskiy) arrives after a failed riot at a concentration camp in Minsk along with a few companions who berate the Jews at this Polish concentration camp for not fighting back. Sasha and his colleagues organize the break and the demise of the German officers and guards is graphic.

It is as if the Germans at the camp are getting more greedy, decadent and murderous as the spirit, courage and hope of the inmates proportionally increases. Near the end of the film the drunken debauchery and brutality of the German guards and officers takes on an aura of theatrical absurdity. Is director Khabenskiv trying to make a point or has he gone overboard?

Perhaps the most interesting comment made by an inmate at Sobibor was that the Germans there taught us Jews to fight. That’s quite a concept to grapple with. Given the fight to establish Israel and the effectiveness of its military this comment is food for thought.

To see more about the film and a trailer

This is a Russian, German and a Lithuanian 2018 film. It is directed by Konstantin Khabenskiy. It is 117 minutes long. It shows on May 7th at 4:30 p.m. at Cineplex Empress Walk. It was Russia’s nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

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