Monday, March 18, 2013

Escape from Sobibor by Richard Rashke

Escape from SobiborEscape from Sobibor by Richard Rashke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Description: Poignant in its honesty and grim in details, Escape from Sobibor provides a vivid account of the biggest escape from a Nazi extermination camp during World War II. "Breathtakingly suspenseful and horrifying at the same time".--Publishers Weekly.

My thoughts: How many Holocaust books can you read before you cease to be shocked at human behavior? I thought I had reached my threshold yet found myself arguing with a casual acquaintance that they were not "just following orders," as the story goes. This brand of cruelty and impromptu games of torture cannot be taught. It was a mindset rather than chain of command.

Regardless of the horrors described, I was able and willing to disconnect the mental images I could have conjured. Perhaps in a minute way, this is how the survivors were able to move ahead in life. Eventually I could not read so passively.

The first 200 pages set the stage. Characters are introduced and points if view are offered. They are generally consistent and I remembered why SCHINDLER'S LIST was so poignant, painful and exhausting. Yet the reader understands that the recollections are by those very few who survived. Be forewarned that it is gut wrenching.

The movie on the escape from Sobibor ends at the escape. Some survived and told any who would listen. I think what bothered me and sickened me so much was the statistics I did in my head. Six million Jews died during WWII. Three million came from a small country called Poland. A very underestimated death tally came in at 250,000 at Sobibor. The number is probably much higher. Yet the author raises interesting theories I can't discount. History is not only written by the victors but also by the Germans. Sobibor's story is told because of survivors. What other camps had revolts and escapes yet were killed in the act. Worse, betrayed by their countrymen and murdered for their clothes are a bit of gold.

Therein lies the great difference between this and other books. Another 100 pages details the following year until the Russian army liberates them. They are hidden, beaten, robbed and killed even after escaping a death camp. Anti-Semitism running far past prejudice and lingering on baseless hatred. If over half escaped, why are only 46 accounted for?

At last the author tugs deeply at my humanity as he recounts the interactions he has with the survivors. Long before the Internet, the author travels and follows leads, eventually culminating at Sobibor. Although the camp was destroyed and evidence partially buried, the survivors still live in Sobibor. It is their reference point decades later. That is when it became real to me. Today they carry the horrors and even hatred around with them. They left the camp but the camp never left them. They still live within its walls at night when they dream.

The story is sad and stirring yet I appreciated the follow up forty years later. I also found myself wondering what baggage I allow to color my lenses and how can I allow my experiences to be my prison camp. I have no Sobibor as my frame of reference. Yet so much can be learned by the power of hope.

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