In 1943, Columbia Pictures produced Hollywood’s first Holocaust film, None Shall Escape, which tells the story of Wilhelm Grimm’s transformation from likable schoolteacher to embittered World War I veteran to SS officer. After decades of obscurity, the movie has returned to circulation. Thomas Doherty describes the climactic scene, in which Grimm presides over the deportation of the Jews from a Polish village:
Shot in noirish night-for-night photography, the deportation sequence shows the Jews of the village, and a shipment from Warsaw, being herded into box cars for transport to what can only be a death camp, not a concentration camp; the wails of the terrified victims ring out on the soundtrack. Grimm orders the rabbi to quiet his people, but the man has no intention of facilitating the Nazi depredations. Richard Hale, the actor who plays the rabbi, would later accrue countless credits as a character actor in film and television, but he never again commanded a moment so powerfully as in this, his first screen role. Framed in close-up, with minimal cutaways, he delivers a searing indictment of anti-Semitism—and a rousing call to arms. . . .
The Jews, [inspired by his words], run from the box cars and attack their guards, but the cause is hopeless: in an extended and excruciating bloodbath, the rebels are mowed down by Nazi machine guns. After the massacre, the unbowed rabbi tells Grimm, “We will never die—it will be you, all of you!”
Grimm shoots him point-blank in the stomach, but the rabbi is a hard man to kill. As the camera scans the bodies strewn on the ground and in the boxcars, he stands up and recites kaddish over his people.
The movie ends with a courtroom scene, where an unrepentant Grimm is on trial for his actions:
Surprisingly, the film denies us the satisfaction of a Nuremberg ending: the hissible Nazi war criminal is not hanged, not even sentenced. “You are the jury,” the presiding judge says into the camera. It is left to us, the custodians of the postwar world, to render a verdict.”