Richard Rashke's Escape From Sobibor

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Richard Rashke's Escape From Sobibor

In the "New Afterword" to the 1995 reprint of Escape From Sobibor, Richard Rashke makes explicit what was already implicit in the original 1982 edition. He forthrightly challenges historians of the Holocaust to reexamine a "flawed premise" of much of their writing. Unconsciously accepting the flawed premise that "if the Nazis...did not give it much significance, it wasn't significant," Rashke argues, historians have distorted the nature of the Jewish response to the Final Solution. Most historians have mistakenly portrayed Jews "as a flock of sheep on the road to slaughter," he insists, "causing intense suffering and irreparable damage to the Jewish people." He offers his own book as an antidote. The story of the escape from Sobibor and those who survived it, he argues, "represents the buried stories of hundreds of thousands who fought and died in ghettos no one ever heard of; who tried to escape on the way to camps but never made it; who fought back inside camps but were killed anyway; who managed to escape only to be recaptured and executed; who formed or joined partisan groups from the woods of Vilna to the forest of the owls and who never saw liberation...." I find Rashke's argument very convincing, and I would like to encourage others who teach about the Holocaust to join me in reexamining the way we present the Jewish response to the Final Solution to our students.

Rashke's book provided the basis for a film of the same title which was first televised in 1987 and which is still available on videocassette. The film, which tells the story of the planning and successful execution of a mass escape from one of the three major Operation Reinhard death camps, Sobibor, in eastern Poland, has been widely used by teachers to illustrate Jewish resistance to the Final Solution. Rashke's book, however, goes far beyond what is depicted in the film. In fact, Rashke notes in his "New Afterword", a sequel to the original film, tentatively subtitled "The Aftermath," had already been scripted, when its sponsor, the Chrysler Corporation, decided not to proceed with the project in face of a lawsuit filed by a chapter of the Ukrainian Congress Committee. Without making any judgment about the appropriateness or the merits of the lawsuit, I think it is unfortunate for those of us who teach about the Holocaust that the sequel was never made.
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