Under Jakob’s Ladder is set in the Soviet Union prior to World War II and focuses on the lives of the ethnic minority Germans from Russia – specifically the true story of Jakob Seel, a teacher, who was arrested and thrown into a Soviet prison in 1938.
As the film opens we meet Jakob Seel (Jeff Stewart), a teacher who is struggling with his growing sense of worthlessness after he is dismissed from his position as a teacher in a Soviet village.
One of Jakob’s neighbors asks him to say a prayer at the funeral of her brother. He agrees, even though he knows it is illegal. Jakob is reported and he is arrested by the secret police later that night. They take him from his daughter and granddaughter, Marta (Chloe Roe).
As a result of his actions Jakob is thrown into prison under the watch of tyrannical warden Nikolai (Christopher Elliott). Unknown to them, Nikolai has an old vendetta against Jakob.
As Jakob settles in to prison life he is shocked to discover that one by one, during the night, prisoners mysteriously disappear. To help distract them from their terror of being taken, Jakob consents to the prisoners’ request to form a choir. In doing so, he unexpectedly finds the sense of worth he had craved. As he rehearses the men, he gains their respect, especially that of the embittered prison bully, Bruno (Sal Rendino).
Then one day, the man responsible for Jakob’s arrest — Oigen (Ken Jennings) – is also imprisoned. Now, Jakob faces the test of a lifetime – can he forgive the unforgivable?