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Escape From a Nazi Death Camp

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Watch Sunday, April 26, 2015 at noon on WMHT TV
& Saturday, April 18, 2015 at 9pm on WORLD.

ESCAPE FROM A NAZI DEATH CAMP is the story of the largest and most successful prison revolt of World War II. The docu-drama is about the insurrection at Sobibor, a Nazi death camp created solely for mass extermination.

Using firsthand accounts and dramatic sequences, ESCAPE FROM A NAZI DEATH CAMP returns to Sobibor with the last remaining survivors to reveal their extraordinary story of courage, desperation and determination.

Through the compelling accounts of Thomas “Toivi” Blatt, Philip Bialowitz, Selma Engel-Wijnberg and former Russian POW Semjon Rozenfled, the true horror of life in Sobibor emerges. Unlike Auschwitz and Dauchau, Sobibor was created purely for extermination. Within 17 months, a quarter of a million people arrived at the camp and were put to death almost immediately. A “lucky” few men and women were plucked from the crowds to work as prisoners in the camp as bakers, tailors, metalworkers and carpenters. However, being selected for this work meant only that one’s life was on loan. No one was supposed to leave Sobibor alive.

The idea to escape began in spring 1943, when prisoners began to hear rumors that Sobibor might be shut down. In June, a note discovered in the coat pocket of a recently exterminated prisoner revealed that when the Belzec death camp was closed, all its prisoners were put to death. Determined that they would not meet the same fate, the Sobibor inmates formed an “underground” group.

Led by Leon Feldhendler, former head of the Zolkiewka ghetto, and Russian POW Lieutenant Alexander “Sasha” Pechersky, the underground prisoners agreed to a large-scale organized escape. Dramatic re-creations transport viewers to the afternoon of October 14, 1943, as the prisoners’ audacious plot unfolds. In key locations around the camp, the program tracks the action minute-by-minute  — from the first Nazi killed in the storeroom to the perilous ascent up the communication pole to sever the phone wires. By the end of the day, after two hours of covert action, more than a dozen Nazis and Ukrainian guards were killed and more than 300 prisoners escaped.

"We’re honored to bring this amazing story of fortitude and survival to the PBS audience,” said Bill Gardner, Vice President of Programming and Development, PBS. “The dramatic recreations coupled with searing first hand accounts help bring a new perspective to the heroic events at Sobibor. Additionally, PBS will air a special line-up of WWII and other military related programs that analyze the impact of war throughout the month of May.”

“Although Sobibor represents a devastating aspect of the Third Reich and its reign of terror, it is important to remember the determination and courage of the prisoners to escape,” said Simon Young, executive producer, Darlow Smithson Productions. “Every facet of this multi-layered story unfolds like a Hollywood blockbuster — from the last-minute change of the escape plan to the systematic ensnaring of camp guards — yet every terrible and inspiring moment is absolutely true.”