Sobibor, Oct. 14, 1943, 4 Pm

  • 2001
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Documentary

Claude Lanzmann's gripping documentary about the 1943 uprising at Poland's Sobibor death camp helps counter a troubling myth perpetuated by many accounts of the Holocaust: That Europe's Jews offered little or no resistance as they were led to the gas chambers, and were thus somehow collusive in their own deaths. Lanzmann originally planned to include his...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Claude Lanzmann's gripping documentary about the 1943 uprising at Poland's Sobibor death camp helps counter a troubling myth perpetuated by many accounts of the Holocaust: That Europe's Jews offered little or no resistance as they were led to the gas chambers, and were thus somehow collusive in their own deaths. Lanzmann originally planned to include his interview with Yehuda Lerner, a key participant in the rebellion, in SHOAH, Lanzmann's epic documentary about the destruction of European Jewry. But the director rightly felt that Lerner's story attested to a "reappropriation of power and violence by the Jews" too important to be reduced to a mere moment in a nine-hour chronicle. That said, while it stands as a distinct film in its own right, this film is still very much of a piece with SHOAH, and the subject is presented in the same haunting manner. Aside from the opening image of Nazi soldiers saluting their fallen brethren at Sobibor, Lanzmann eschews archival materials, opting instead for long takes of the locales as they appear today, eerily silent and empty. He also maintains SHOAH's oral approach, allowing Lerner, who was sixteen at the time of the uprising, to tell the entire story. Lerner begins with the emptying of the Warsaw ghetto and his separation from his family, then recounts his remarkable series of escapes from eight camps in six months. Lerner was eventually shipped to Sobibor along with a convoy of Jewish Soviet soldiers, who, once they reached the death camp, realized that the rumors of genocide were all too true. Knowing they had little time left to live and nothing to lose, Lerner and his co-conspirators concocted an ingenious escape plan that hinged on the systematic killing of German guards at precisely 4 pm on October 14. His words are enthralling, triumphant and horrifying — the most disturbing moment comes when Lerner describes the honking of hundreds of geese kept at Sobibor for the express purpose of drowning out the screams of dying Jews. And while he provides valuable insight into why the situation at Sobibor was more conducive to rebellion than that at other camps — namely the presence of soldiers predisposed to fighting and possessing knowledge about weapons that civilians lacked — he also describes an attitude of rebelliousness on the part of general camp populations that strongly suggests that not all went gently. (In Hebrew and French, with English subtitles.)

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Claude Lanzmann's gripping documentary about the 1943 uprising at Poland's Sobibor death camp helps counter a troubling myth perpetuated by many accounts of the Holocaust: That Europe's Jews offered little or no resistance as they were led to the gas chamb… (more)
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