Escape from Sobibor:
The Details the World Needs to Know, yet Hates to Hear
Rashke, R. L. (2013). Escape from Sobibor. New York: Delphinium Books.
Richard Rashke’s Escape from Sobibor vividly depicts the Jew’s consistent opposition to the Nazis in the concentration camps during World War II. These acts of resistance evolved into one of the most notable escape attempts by prisoners during the war. Rashke’s work is based upon interviews with more than fifteen survivors who successfully escaped Sobibor. He illustrates their stories in such a profound and captivating way by digging deep into the souls of the survivors, leaving readers emotionally moved at the end of book. “Intelligent people are saying today, ‘It is not true. The Holocaust never happened!’ They know it did, but they want to deny it because they want to bring up a new generation who could do it again. The roots are there. It all depends on how they grow. They may not, but you never know. If we really got into bad times- no oil- really bad times, and there’s a war…. If there’s a lot of flammable stuff around and you throw one match, there can be a big fire. That’s the reason it’s so important to keep the memory alive, so that people know about it. Another ten or fifteen years, there won’t be any witnesses” (Rashke, 390).
The third section of the book, The Escape, encompasses chapters 19 through 31. The author managed to string every detail he possible could pull from the survivors to brilliantly depict the escape from the camp planned by a few very brave inmates, but the even bigger struggle to find a way of survival in such a dangerous and life-threatening environment. Although many Jews successfully escaped, this certainly did not mean freedom or security. The author explains that the survivors were constantly hiding from the Nazis and were fearful for their life on a day-to-day basis.
The argument/thesis of the Rashke’s work is not only the story of life in the concentration camp, the escape and the details of life as a survivor but the different types of prisoners who were brave enough to see a light at the end of the tunnel and find the courage to revolt. Throughout the text there I never found myself questioning the information given by the author, because every detail was from the primary source. In the afterword, Rashke made note that if he found himself missing a particular detail, another interview would present the correct information to fill in the holes.
I found Richard Rashke’s work phenomenal and I would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in World War II. His book provides a inimitable experience, a first hand prospective from several survivors. If this information was not tangible eventually it would be unavailable once the survivors passed away. Rashke’s book was made into a widely praised movie that was released in the United Kingdom and the United States in 1987. The following are a handful of quotes that stuck out to me throughout the text: “To survive, Esther followed two basic rules. Try not to be noticed, and don’t fall in love” (Rashke, 119), “With a sixth sense, I know deep down that the Nazis will not kill me, that I will live. If I do, I will take revenge-not for everyone, for that is impossible, but for my family and friends. I promise you on their ashes, I will avenge. One way or another” (Rashke, 45-46), “The women’s barracks were unhappy places. The women didn’t talk of escape and revenge as the men did. They wallowed in stories of parents, husbands, children, fiancés, and the more they talked, the worse they felt” (Rashke, 118-119).
It took a bit of digging to find scholarly reviews of the book, rather than the movie, but there was an overall consensus that Rashke’s work was exceptional. Unfortunately, I could only find one review could be considered a “scholarly review”. There was criticism that there was no thesis or systemic method to his work. I was reading it from a very different perspective than an academic and more for enjoyment and education on the revolt and escape. There was a consensus from multiple reviews that he is not an academic and at times his work was not taken as seriously.