Powerful drama pays tribute to death camp revolt

Escape From Sobibor CBS, Sunday, 8-11 p.m. Stars: Alan Arkin, Rutger Hauer, Joanna Pacula, Harmut Becker, and Jack Shepherd. Writer: Reginald Rose, based on the book by Richard Rashke. Producer: Dennis E. Doty. Director: Jack Gold. ``Escape From Sobibor'' is a superlative example of the use of television drama to imprint on our consciousness momentous lessons in humanity. It is a traumatizing but awakening reminder of a time when society teetered on the edge of profound evil, allowing cruelty and indignity to run rampant, but managed at the last moment to nobly transcend them.

The world's seemingly passive acceptance of the hideous fate inflicted by Nazi Germany on Jews in concentration camps is the most inexplicable aspect of the Holocaust for many contemporary observers, Jew and gentile alike. And to too many successive generations, a docile walk into the gas chamber, rather than an all-out struggle to remain outside, has become the representative image of that period.

``Escape From Sobibor'' is a fact-based drama that could change such perceptions. It not only helps clarify the psychological twists and turns that often resulted in minimal resistance, but chronicles a glorious but seldom remembered event: a successful uprising of Jews against their Nazi oppressors.

And what a supreme moment it was! Despite the violence and vengeful bloodletting, the rebellion at Sobibor possessed elements of glory and justice. Now that the story is finally being widely told through television, it may be that Sobibor will become a symbol of resistance for persecuted people everywhere.

``Sobibor'' reveals much about the psychology of hope as it follows the life of boredom, drudgery, horror, and evil manipulation imposed on inmates by their keepers at a death camp in eastern Poland. It reveals with harsh intensity the roles of Ukrainian guards, Russian soldiers, and Jewish collaborators as well as SS men. It focuses on the tricks and maneuvers and life-preserving games the doomed people played as long as even a dim hope of life was held out to them.

Reginald Rose's script makes all the main characters seem like real people. Played by Alan Arkin, Rutger Hauer, and Joanna Pacula, they develop as complete human beings - loving, hating, but determined to survive and see justice done. Director Jack Gold, striving to present the circumstances honestly, shows us the furtive lovemaking as well as the internecine warfare that went on among the various ethnic groups within the death camp.

Watching ``Sobibor'' is not a pleasant experience. The drama is filled with ugliness, interspersed with fleeting moments of tenderness, as the Jewish prisoners try in many subtle ways to help each other, yet manage to survive mainly by doing the awful deeds demanded of them.

On Oct. 14, 1943, the prisoners said, ``No more!'' After 250,000 had died, they revolted. They killed many of their captors, and more than 300 of them fought their way to freedom from the camp. Several found haven in the nearby woods. Immediately afterward the Germans wiped out all evidence of the camp by leveling it, planting trees, destroying documents.

Now Sobibor has been resurrected in this chilling, horrifying, yet ultimately inspiring and uplifting drama. It is an unforgettable tale.

One hopes that ``Escape From Sobibor'' will have long-lasting impact on a new generation in danger of forgetting - or, even worse, denying - those events. The film performs a major service to those who survived the Holocaust: It cannot help but transform the plaintive sectarian shriek of ``No more!'' once and forever into a universal cry of ``Never again!''

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