...or Be Killed





Production year



1 February 1986


81 min






featuretheatrical distributionlong

Original title

...nebo být zabit

Czech title

...nebo být zabit

English title

...or Be Killed


By 1985 Slovak director Martin Hollý had already made several historical film and TV productions, including Signum laudis (1980) and Noční jezdci (Night Riders, 1981). …nebo být zabit (...or Be Killed) is a war drama that takes place in March 1945. Screenwriters Kamil Pixa and Jaroslav Vokřál wrote the story of two concentration camp prisoners who decide to escape once they learn the Nazis intend to kill off all inmates. Ernest is a veteran of the Spanish civil war; young resistance fighter Kim lost his family during the Nazi reign of revenge and terror following the Heydrich assassination. Together, they set out on a dangerous mission that will require both courage and ruthlessness. Milan Kňažko (Ernest) and Martin Zounar (Kim) give brilliant performances in this harrowing, expressive story.


It is March 1945. A Nazi officer lets the concentration camp prisoners spend a night together. He cynically tells his colleague about the plan to liquidate them all the next day – he will certainly not let the three thousand witnesses live. Only a few dozen prisoners are ordered to search for unexploded bombs left by the allies' blitz in a nearby small town. The rest die in an underground ammunition factory which is blown up. The prisoner Ernest from Vienna, a veteran from the Spanish civil war, and the very young resistance fighter Kim from Prague, who is the only one from his family to have survived the Nazi terror following the assassination of the Reichsprotektor Heydrich, prepare for their escape. Ernest makes two needle-pointed daggers from screwdrivers and shows Kim how to silently kill by a stab to the kidneys. If they do not kill, they themselves will be killed. At night, they cut the barbed wire which gets twisted under the electric current. They also offer the others to escape, but a clumsy refugee activates the safety signal. Most prisoners are then shot dead. Ernest and Kim manage to escape. They are joined by the service wolfhound Ariel whom Kim tamed in the camp as the dog feeder. The refugees seize the coats and caps of a military patrol and watch from their shelter as two transports meet. One transport is the heavily wounded German soldiers returning from the front and the other one with young boys is just going there. Three shocked deserters are mercilessly shot dead by the officers. The couple arrives at a gamekeeper's lodge, where a German married couple treats them in a friendly way. But then the woman shoots the dog Ariel and the fanatic gamekeeper leads the refugees at the point of his gun to the village. Kim kills him without any qualms on the way. In the meantime, the gamekeeper's wife is raped and murdered by German soldiers who moreover set the lodge on fire and lay mines around it. Ernest tries to cross the mined meadow but is shot by a Soviet soldier. When Ernest's coat opens wide, revealing his striped togs, the Soviet sniper runs out to help the refugee and he himself dies in an explosion. Kim keeps on walking with his eyes fading away. The film ends with a quote from Dante's Inferno: "How frozen I became and powerless then / Ask it not, Reader, for I write it not / Because all language would be insufficient."


Milan Kňažko

rakouský vězeň Ernest

Martin Zounar

český vězeň Kim

Jiří Zahajský

hajný Franz

Eliška Balzerová

Milada, Kimova matka

Antoni Polarczyk

velitel tábora

Jan Vágner

velitel stráží

Vladimír Hrubý

šílený muž

Hana Brejchová


Antonín Brtoun

velitel transportu raněných

Zdeněk Srstka

důstojník SS

Jiří Kraus

hořící voják

Ladislav Lahoda

hořící voják

Petr Sekanina

hořící voják

František Stupka

hořící voják

Jaroslav Vlk

hořící voják

Bohuslav Ličman

židovský kuchař

Petr Svárovský

mladý německý voják

Ladislav Farkaš


Václav Baur

příslušník SS u auta

Karel Bělohradský

důstojník SS

Petr Jákl


František Kovář


Milan Klacek

příslušník SS

Jiří Kvasnička

šílenec ve vlaku

Vít Pešina

polonahý muž

Ludvík Pozník

strážný u psů

Mikuláš Roth

starý žid

Rudolf Vodrážka

gardový důstojník

Jaroslav Špáňa


Zdeněk Plavec


David Rauch

mladý německý voják

Crew and creators

Second Unit Director

Josef Loučím

Assistant Director

Viktor Valter, Petr Slabý, Helena Voverková


Kamil Pixa

Shooting Script

Martin Hollý

Director of Photography

František Uldrich

Second Unit Photography

Jiří Ondráček

Camera Operator

Stanislav Šťastný

Production Designer

Karel Černý

Assistent Production Designer

Michal Krška

Set Designer

Lubomír Kafka, Richard Staněk

Costume Designer

Jan Kropáček

Assistant Film Editor

Eliška Willigová

Sound Designer

Jiří Hora

Production Manager

Blažej Vráb

Unit Production Manager

Rudolf Mos, Evelyna Vrbová

Unit Production Manager

Přemysl Čermák


Renata Čihulková (klapka), Alena Červená (fotografka)


Music Composed by

Harry Macourek

Music Performed by

FISYO (Music Conducted by Mario Klemens), Pěvecký sbor Čs. rozhlasu (Music Conducted by Miroslav Košler)


Die Fahne hoch /Horst Wessel Lied/

Song Composer Etienne Nicolas Méhul

Židovská píseň

Singer Pěvecký sbor Čs. rozhlasu

Production info

Original Title

...nebo být zabit

Czech Title

...nebo být zabit

English Title

...or Be Killed




featuretheatrical distribution



Origin country




Production Year


Production specifications

literary Screenplay approved 28 August 1984
start of filming 18 September 1984
technical Screenplay approved 5 October 1984
end of filming 29 April 1985
projection approval 3 June 1985
withdrawal from distribution 30 June 1990


premiere 1 February 1986 /suitable for youths/

Creative Group

5. dramaturgicko-výrobní skupina, Miloslav Vydra (vedoucí 5. dramaturgicko-výrobní skupiny)

Technical info

Duration typology

feature film

Duration in minutes

81 min

Original length in metres

2 272 meters

Distribution carrier

16mm, 35mm

Aspect ratio






Sound system/format




Dialogue languages

Czech, German

Subtitles languages

without subtitles

Opening/End credits languages