Why you should see the new Russian historical movie ‘Sobibor’

The film provides a fictionalised version of the Sobibor prisoner uprising, the most successful of concentration camp revolts (Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka also had smaller, less successful uprisings).

The 1987 British telemovie “Escape from Sobibor”, starring Alan Arkin and Rutger Hauer, previously portrayed these events. (Documentaries have also been made by Claude Lanzmann and Pavel Kogan.) This Russian version carries great meaning and is likely to be one of the most watched films of the Festival, as its director and star Konstantin Khabenskiy (“Night Watch”, “Admiral”) will be a JIFF guest.

The uprising was led by the Soviet-Jewish POW Aleksandr Pechersky (Khabenskiy), who organised the uprising in just three weeks, eventually including the majority of the 550 Sobibor prisoners. With few weapons, they killed a number of SS soldiers and Ukrainian guards. Of those who escaped, about 80 were killed during the revolt, 170 others found and killed later and many others turned over by local collaborators. Yet 53 managed to survive the war – including Pechersky.

Sobibor” can be a tough film to watch and prospective viewers are forewarned.

An early scene shows a large number of naked women herded into a gas chamber and gassed, with attendant screams and vomiting. As Cnaan Liphshiz writes for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “the film is one of the goriest of its kind, there’s a rape scene, immolation, savage beatings, floggings, stabbings, a bludgeoning to the head and firearm executions.”

Numerous Holocaust films have been set in the camps, notably including Oscar winners “Schindler’s List” and “Son of Saul”. While “Sobibor” doesn’t rise to the dramatic or artistic heights of these two, its large budget – much of it from Russian government sources – ensures that the action is realistic, although some of the details of Nazi camp procedures may be debated.

The film has already had unprecedented success in Russian cinemas, and is Russia’s official entry to the 91st Academy Awards.

It also carries important contemporary political significance, as part of a Russian attempt to ensure that the Soviet Union’s role in European liberation is recognised. As Russia Today reports, the film “is a major step … to preserving historical truth … about the heroism of the Soviet people … who saved Europe and the whole world from fascism at the cost of many lives.”

A recent screening of the film for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscores how Russia has made the Sobibor revolt an important part of their national story.

War drama ‘Sobibor,’ featuring leading Russian and Hollywood actors, tells the story of the only successful mass breakout from a Nazi extermination camp in history.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the mass breakout from the Sobibor extermination camp — the most successful attempt ever undertaken in such camps during WW2. New Russian historical movie “Sobibor,” due to be released in May, is dedicated to these events.

The movie premiere was screen on April 23 in Warsaw, since the camp was located in Poland, almost 130 km from the Polish capital. After the planned release in Russia on May 3, “Sobibor” will be screened worldwide.

Based on true events

On Oct. 14, 1943, over 400 prisoners led by Jewish Soviet officer Alexandr Pechersky attempt an uprising in the Sobibor extermination camp. They kill 11 SS guards and tried to capture an armory. Having failed, they rush en masse to the forests through a minefield.

Most of the runaways kill, capture, instantly shot or betray by locals and also execute. Only 53 people survive the end of the war, including Alexander Pechersky, who died in 1990.

130 prisoners who chose not to escape were execute the next day, Oct. 15. By the personal order of Heinrich Himmler, the camp was completely terminate to erase all memory of the breakout.

The cast

Leading Russian actor Konstantin Khabensky portrays the central figure — Alexander Pechersky. And after some personnel changes, he was also invite to become its director, which was a new experience for him.

Khabensky is known to foreign audiences for his roles in such Russian blockbusters as “Night Watch,” “Day Watch” and “Admiral.” Besides, he has appear in several foreign projects, including “Black Sea,” “Wanted,” “Unfriended” and “World War Z.”

Konstantin Khabensky says his movie is not a documental depiction of events, but a fictional story, and his Pechersky is more like a collective image than a real person.

Sobibor” is a history of people who are force to act in cruel dangerous circumstances, when death can come at any second. The movie shows “the details of human life, a life retreating, clinging, trying to survive,” Khabensky says. (link in Russian)

The other main role in the movie — camp commandant Karl Frenzel — is portray by French-American actor Christopher Lambert. He, Khabensky says, has the perfect “look of the wolf.”


Rating: NR
Genre: Drama
Directed By: Konstantin Khabenskiy
Stars: Konstantin Khabenskiy, Christopher Lambert, Mariya Kozhevnikova
Written By: Anna Tchernakova, Michael Edelstein, Ilya Vasiliev
On Disc/Streaming: Mar 29, 2019
Runtime: 110 minutes
Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Films


Robert Abele
The question is whether a button-pushing movie like “Sobibor” is the ideal way to experience it.

C.H. Newell
See Sobibór. Absorb its messages. Teach your children about hate, in all its forms. Then, teach them to love.

Mark R. Leeper
While the entire film has been downbeat (to say the least) the film turns itself into a paean to freedom. It is strong change of tone.

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