Heroes amid horrors
| ||Concentration camp survivor Yehuda Lerner in "Sobibor."|
"Sobibor" by the maker of "Shoah" presents the amazing story of a courageous revolt in one of the Nazis' most efficient death camps, in the words of a survivor who was part of it.
By JOSHUA TANZER
Claude Lanzmann, who made the monumental Holocaust documentary "Shoah," saved one of the interviews from that massive storytelling project and has now turned it into the smaller but equally gripping film "Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m."
The film's title refers to the exact moment when prisoners in the Sobibor death camp executed their plan to revolt against their Nazi captors and escape. We hear the story from one of the participants, Yehuda Lerner, now an Israeli, who tells what happened in Hebrew with French translation and English subtitles.|
Lerner tells how he escaped from eight camps before being sent to Sobibor, a veritable killing factory, along with a shipment of captured Jewish soldiers from the Soviet army. A friendly Polish railroad worker warned the bunch as they waited on the train, "Get away! They're taking you to Sobibor! They're taking you to Sobibor to be burned!"
Lerner was the only one in the car who understood Polish, and he thought it was crazy. "Taking us to be burned?" he says. "I'd never heard of such a thing."
And they had their chances, too. "Everybody needed to relieve themselves in the train car, so we made a hole in the boards with one man's knife. We could have escaped through the hole, but nobody believed it." By the time they reached the camp and had the first inklings of the ongoing massacre there, it was too late to escape.
What follows is an amazing plot to escape from this final destination, which I won't give away here because the way it's allowed to unfold, every moment given full consideration before we move on to the next, makes this as suspenseful as any Hollywood thriller. But among the interesting insights that emerge are that the captured Soviet soldiers' military discipline was what allowed them to patiently craft such a plan and daringly carry it out; and, as Lerner repeats several times, that the Germans' own efficiency and punctuality made the plan work.|
As with "Shoah," nothing is exploited to visually dramatize the Nazi horrors the story is told simply and patiently and the only scenes we see are those of the fields and forests in the area where the action took place more than 50 years ago. We don't see the death camp, but we do watch the scenery go by as we hear about the train ride to that fearsome destination. We finally arrive at the weed-strewn terminus of the rail line to Sobibor. It brings the experience eerily to life in a way that no number of Steven Spielberg extravaganzas and explicit death-chamber videos can. We don't just see we feel.
Moreover, this is not just a story about how horrible the Holocaust was it's about unbelievable courage in the face of the ultimate evil. It's likely the most unforgettable film at this year's New York Film Festival.
|OCTOBER 8, 2001|
OFFOFFOFF.COM THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK
Reader comments on Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m.:
Post a comment on "Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m."