None Shall Escape

None Shall Escape is a 1944 war film. Even though the film was made during the World War II, the setting is a post-war Nuremberg-style war crimes trial. Alexander Knox plays Wilhelm Grimm, a Nazi officer who is on trial, and the story unfolds through the eyes of several witnesses, including a Catholic priest, Father Warecki (Henry Travers), Grimm's brother Karl (Erik Rolf) and Marja Pacierkowski (Marsha Hunt), a woman to whom he was once engaged.

None Shall Escape
Original US 1944 poster
Directed byAndre DeToth
Produced bySamuel Bischoff
Screenplay byLester Cole
Story byAlfred Neumann
Joseph Than
StarringMarsha Hunt
Alexander Knox
Henry Travers
Music byErnst Toch
CinematographyLee Garmes
Edited byCharles Nelson
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • February 3, 1944 (1944-02-03)
Running time
85 minutes
CountryUnited States

Alfred Neumann and Joseph Than were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Story.


The film centers on the trial of Wilhelm Grimm, a war criminal. Each character witness provides a flashback scene to a previous part of Grimm's life. In the trial, it is revealed that Grimm (Alexander Knox), who fought for Germany in the World War I and lost a leg in battle, returns after the war to the small German village of Lidzbark (now part of Poland) where he had been a teacher. Despite the recent hostilities, he is welcomed back into the community and resumes his teaching. He also resumes his relationship with Marja Pacierkowski, a local Polish girl to whom he had become engaged before the war.

He is bitter about Germany's losing the war and it is obvious he has been changed by the experience. He treats the villagers with disdain, and his upcoming marriage is cancelled. He calls his fiancée a "peasant" only interested in her wedding dowry.

Taunted by the school's pupils, who say he is not fit to marry any Polish woman, he molests one of them, Anna, a young girl. The rape is blamed on her young male friend, Jan Stys, but Wilhelm's fiancée accidentally stumbles on the truth from Anna. The girl subsequently drowns herself in the lake. A mob gathers seeking vengeance, but a trial is required. Nevertheless, Jan throws a stone, putting out Wilhelm's left eye. After the trial fails to convict him, Wilhelm returns to Germany, after borrowing money from the priest and the rabbi.

In Germany he goes to Munich to the house of his brother Karl, who is married with a young family. Karl clearly despises the Nazis, referring scornfully to "that Hitler creature". Karl cannot dissuade Wilhelm, though, and Wilhelm joins the Nazi Party and rises through its ranks. In 1929 he is sought by the police after the Nazi Party is made illegal. His nephew keeps the police at bay and Wilhelm rewards him with a swastika badge. As the Nazis grow in strength, Karl decides he has no option but to leave Germany and go to Vienna. He threatens to reveal Wilhelm's part in the Reichstag fire unless he joins them but, instead of doing so, Wilhelm turns them over to the authorities, sending his own brother to a concentration camp. He then arranges that Karl's son enters the Hitler Youth.

When World War II starts, Grimm becomes the commander of the occupying force of the same village where he had previously lived. He treats the villagers brutally. He forces Marja, now a schoolteacher, to burn the children's books, saying they will be replaced by German books. He cruelly says that time has not treated her well and taunts her for rejecting him due to his leg injury. His nephew Willi, whom Wilhelm asserts that he treats as his own son, is now serving under him and pursuing Marja's daughter, Janina.

Grimm, who is now a Reich Commissioner, next becomes involved in the large-scale deportation of the Jews and other minority groups. He commands the rabbi to quell dissent among the crowd as they are being placed on a train. The rabbi, knowing that they are going to die, instructs the crowd to rebel instead, upon which the Nazis turn machine guns onto the crowd. Wilhelm kills the rabbi with his pistol. Father Warecki exchanges final words with him as he dies.

Willi finds Marja and Janina hiding Jan Stys, who is injured, but he leaves without Jan when Marja rebukes him, and seems to soften in his attitude. Wilhelm sends Janina to work at the "officers' club", the Nazi name for enforced prostitution. Willi begs that she be released, to no avail. When Janina also dies, Grimm's nephew renounces his Nazi allegiance, having realized what an evil path Wilhelm has led him on. While Willi is praying by the side of Janina's body in the church, Wilhelm shoots him in the back.

We return to the courtroom. Wilhelm refuses to accept the authority of the court and continues to spout Nazi propaganda. The judge leaves it to the people to decide Grimm's fate.



Columbia Pictures' in-house producer Sam Bischoff got the idea to make a film about a war crime trial after having heard President Franklin D. Roosevelt declare on August 21, 1942[1] that the Allies were collecting information about the Nazi leaders responsible for war atrocities, in order to bring them to court after the war.[2][3] (The prosecution of war criminals was ratified by the Allies in the Moscow Declarations in 1943). He gathered Burt Kelly on to help produce and Lester Cole to write the script, both frequent partners in previous films.[4] During production it was known as both "The Day Will Come" and "Lebensraum". [5] To ensure the war crimes depicted in the film conformed to actual Nazi atrocities, the script was submitted to the U.S. State Department's Office of Information, OWI, and the United Nations for review.[3] The film wanted to represent the Tribunal of the Warsaw District accurately during all stages as it was some of the first ever seen of humanity held accountable for its acts.[6]

Production began August 31, 1943 and finished October 26,1943 (i.e. more than eighteen months before the war in Europe ended.) Director Andre DeToth had seen the war up close already in 1939. He was filming newsreels in Hungary when the Germans invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and was immediately sent to cover the fighting on the German-Polish front.[3]


Alfred Neumann and Joseph Than were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Story, and the film is considered to be the first feature film to deal with Nazi atrocities against the Jews.[3]


  1. Jewish Virtual Library: Franklin Roosevelt Administration: Statement on Punishment of War Crimes Linked 2015-06-05
  2. New York Herald Tribune, October 10, 1943.
  3. AFI Catalog of Feature Films: None Shall Escape; accessed 2015-06-05.
  4. Herzberg, Bob (2014-01-10). The Left Side of the Screen: Communist and Left-Wing Ideology in Hollywood, 1929-2009. McFarland. ISBN 9780786457694.
  5. Cesarani, David; Sundquist, Eric J. (2011-09-29). After the Holocaust: Challenging the Myth of Silence. Routledge. ISBN 9781136631726.
  6. Delage, Christian (2014). Caught on Camera: Film in the Courtroom from the Nuremberg Trials to the Trials of the Khmer Rouge. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 9780812245561.
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