Sobibor is not a detailed overview of the uprising the death camp of Sobibor. It is largely an extraordinary interview with Yehuda Lerner, one of the participants in the revolt. Note: For some reason there are no subtitles for the voice over narration for about 11 minutes of introductory footage of contemporary Warsaw, Minsk, and the train ride to the camp. But when the interview begins, there are subtitles. 95 minutes.
A Visitor from the Living is an interview with Dr. Maurice Rossel. Dr. Rossel was a part of the International Red Cross team that visited Theresienstadt. Rossel reported that life for the Jews there was not bad. In fact, he had been deceived by the Germans into thinking and reporting that. 65 minutes.
For far better reviews, read The New York Times reviews that I have pasted in below.
SOBIBOR, OCTOBER 14, 1943, 4 P.M. One Man's Daring Escape From the Final Solution
October 11, 2001
By A. O. SCOTT
In 1979, while he was making ''Shoah,'' his nine-hour documentary about the Nazi attempt to obliterate the Jews of Europe, Claude Lanzmann filmed a long interview with Yehuda Lerner, a survivor of the Sobibor camp in eastern Poland. The story that Mr. Lerner had to tell -- about a carefully planned, surprisingly successful uprising of camp inmates against their would-be murderers -- was not included in ''Shoah.'' The purpose of that film was not to document exceptional acts of mercy and bravery, but rather the more normative experience of inhumanity, terror and death.
More recent films about the Holocaust, both documentary and fictional, have preferred to tell uplifting stories of hope in the face of evil. As if to protect his latest film, ''Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m.,'' which is based on Mr. Lerner's recollections, from being taken out of context, Mr. Lanzmann concludes with a recitation, accompanied by an on-screen list, of the trainloads of Jews that arrived in Sobibor during the 18 months of its operation. About 250,000 people died in the camp, which was divided into two units, one for slave labor and one for extermination. They came primarily from Poland, the Netherlands and the Soviet Union.
Mr. Lerner was a teenager when he arrived in September 1943. He had been deported from the Warsaw ghetto and had managed to escape from eight different camps. ''What did you tell the Germans who captured you?'' Mr. Lanzmann asks him, wondering why Mr. Lerner's captors did not kill him on the spot. ''The truth,'' he replies with a shrug, unable to explain his extraordinary luck. Eventually Mr. Lerner was taken to Minsk, where he was interned with a group of Soviet prisoners of war, all Jews, who impressed him with their discipline and sense of order. It was these soldiers -- in particular an officer named Alexander Petchersky -- who organized the revolt of Sept. 14.
Like ''Shoah,'' ''Sobibor,'' which will be shown at the New York Film Festival tonight and is to open at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas tomorrow, derives some of its power from the straightforwardness of its technique. In the first half, Mr. Lerner's voice is accompanied by color film of the landscape he describes. We see Warsaw and Minsk as bustling modern cities where the past is visible in the shape of monuments.
''Museums and monuments,'' Mr. Lanzmann argues in a director's note that appears on screen at the start of the film, ''institute oblivion as much as remembrance.'' His own documentary method, juxtaposing the voices of survivors with images of train tracks, quiet forests and dilapidated, silent camp buildings, brings the experience as close to the present as possible -- which means that it also takes account of the unbridgeable chasm between the present and the past.
In his note Mr. Lanzmann writes that ''justice must be done to a dual legend, the one claiming that the Jews allowed themselves to be led to the gas chambers without any premonitions or suspicions and that their death was comfortable, and the other claiming that they put up no resistance to their executioners.'' Mr. Lerner makes clear that nobody expected to leave Sobibor alive. Two previous uprisings had failed, and the Red Army officers immediately set about forming a committee to plan a third one.
Nothing Hollywood might devise could be as nerve-rackingly suspenseful as the second half of ''Sobibor,'' in which Mr. Lanzmann simply trains his camera on the face of Mr. Lerner, a stout, middle-aged man with bushy sideburns and a slight twitch in one corner of his mouth, and lets him talk. Mr. Lerner speaks Hebrew, which is translated first into French by an off-camera interpreter and then into the English of the subtitles, but as his story gathers momentum, the language barrier seems to drop away.
It helps that Mr. Lerner is an engaging raconteur who still seems amazed at the facts of his own life. Recalling how he killed a German guard with an axe, he says, ''I split his skull completely, as if I'd been a specialist, doing it all my life.'' And then he turns pale with an emotion he identifies, when pressed, as joy, but which seems like something unspeakably more complex.
And similarly, the feelings that this simple, deeply intelligent movie produces -- of horror, admiration, hope and grief -- are as hard to name as they are to dispel.
A Visitor From the Living (1999): Of One Man Who Saw Evil, And Preferred Not to Focus
By JANET MASLIN
October 7, 1999
''A Visitor from the Living,'' a 65-minute documentary by Claude Lanzmann, is a transfixing addendum to this filmmaker's ''Shoah.'' Filmed in 1979, it essentially consists of a single conversation between Mr. Lanzmann and the elderly, distinguished-looking Maurice Rossel.
In 1944 Mr. Rossel was a Swiss member of an International Red Cross inspection party that was sent to view the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. Mr. Rossel was to understand what he could about a sanitized, spruced-up detention camp that was to real camps what Disney World is to real life.
Mr. Rossel tells how he came to do this in patient, measured fashion, with only the occasional interruption. (At one point, he matter-of-factly shoos a small child out of the room, commenting, ''Sorry, can't have him coughing on camera.'') He speaks of brazenly visiting Auschwitz as a form of espionage, of chatting with German officers there about bobsledding in the Alps as he tried to perform a reconnaissance mission. Gradually, Mr. Lanzmann leads him into a discussion of Theresienstadt, which appeared to be a much higher order of concentration camp. It had a bandstand, an orchestra and park benches. It passed Mr. Rossel's inspection with flying colors.
This documentary gains intensity as Mr. Rossel begins to repeat his idea that the Jews at Theresienstadt were privileged characters, wealthy enough to be given V.I.P. treatment by the Nazis. And it gradually becomes clear that Mr. Rossel found these Jews appalling, complaining of ''that passivity, that sterility that I couldn't stomach.'' Mr. Lanzmann points out that if the residents behaved unnaturally while their camp was being inspected that was perhaps understandable. After all, the camp boasted attractive, fake children's facilities even though abortion was mandatory for its Jewish inmates.
Although he eventually presents Mr. Rossel as someone who sanctioned a terrible lie, Mr. Lanzmann is not one to play ''Gotcha!'' with such sobering subject matter. He expresses a consideration for Mr. Rossel's feelings in the film's opening credits, and he does not violate that on camera. But he quietly dissects the consequences of a ghastly deception, one in which 5,000 inmates turn out to have been killed just before the visit so the place would not look too crowded. This strong, troubling film does not overemphasize such details. It doesn't have to.