Agnieszka Holland, Julie Delpy, Marco Hofschneider, René Hofschneider
| Europa, Europa
This drama was based on the true story of a young German Jew who survived the Holocaust by falling in with the Nazis. Solomon Perel (Marco Hofschneider) is the son of a Jewish shoe salesman coming of age in Germany during the rise of Adolph Hitler. In 1938, a group of Nazis attack Solomon’s family home; his sister is killed, and 13-year-old Solomon flees to Poland. Solomon winds up in an orphanage operated by Stalinist forces; when German forces storm Poland, Solomon’s fluent German allows him to join the Nazis as a translator, posing as Josef Peters, an ethnic German. In time, “Peters” is made a member of the elite Hitler Youth, but since Solomon is circumcised, he can be easily revealed as a Jew, and he lives in constant fear that his secret will be discovered. Solomon’s close calls include an attempted seduction by Robert Kellerman (Andre Wilms), a homosexual officer, and his relationship with Leni (Julie Delpy), a beautiful but violently anti-Semitic woman who wants to bear his child for the glory of the master race. Europa, Europa (shown in Europe as Hitlerjunge Salomon) also features the real Solomon Perel, who appears briefly as himself. Mark Deming
TV Guide Review: Agnieszka Holland’s fascinating, richly realized EUROPA, EUROPA is based on the real-life story of Solomon Perel, one of a handful of Jews who ironically managed to survive the Nazi terror by masquerading as Aryans.
Solomon Perel (Marco Hofschneider) was born in Germany, near Braunschweig, to German-speaking Polish-Jewish parents in 1925. (He shares a birthday–April 20th–with Adolf Hitler.) In the opening scene, the baby Solomon is circumcized–an ironic beginning to a story that will revolve around Solomon’s attempts to conceal his lack of a foreskin. Solly grows up to be a handsome, engaging youth who does not look particularly Jewish. On the eve of Solomon’s bar mitzvah, his family’s home is attacked by a Nazi mob. Solly saves himself by diving from the bathroom window and hiding in an empty barrel. The family then flee to Poland, where they are separated during the German invasion of September 1939.
Solly makes his way into Soviet-occupied Poland and winds up in an orphanage near Grodno, where he undergoes a seemingly painless transformation into a Young Pioneer. Although there are hints of the Stalinist terror, they are eclipsed by the German attack on Russia, during which Solly is picked up by the invaders. By virtue of his impeccable German and his claim to be among Poland’s ethnic German minority, the Volksdeutsche, Solly escapes the winnowing out of Communist Party members and Jews being conducted by German troops. Since he also speaks Russian, Solly is immediately adopted by an advance Wehrmacht squad as their translator, under his false name of Josef Peters, or “Jupp.”
Solly’s inner tension is expressed in the form of wonderfully surreal dreams, where Stalin and Hitler waltz together and a fellow orphan appears as a crucified Christ. In one nightmare he hides in a closet with Hitler, whose pose suggests he, too, is concealing the same secret that Solly does. Holland, a frequent collaborator of Andrzej Wajda (she wrote the screenplays for DANTON, A LOVE IN GERMANY and KORCZAK), also directed BITTER HARVEST and TO KILL A PRIEST. Her screenplay covers much of the range of anti-Semitism in Hitler’s Germany, whether the airy intellectual sort or the bloody-minded kind. Also familiar with the love-hate relations between Poles and Russians, Holland has not skirted the harmful effects of the Soviet occupation. The most poignant sequence is a recreation of the Warsaw ghetto familiar to viewers from Nazi newsreels, glimpsed by Solly through a chink in the white-washed window of a tram that passes through this forbidden zone.
EUROPA, EUROPA is a compelling story told with intelligence and wit. Holland’s direction, and the acting by the ensemble cast, are superb. The real-life Solomon Perel makes an appearance as himself in the present day.
Europa, Europa: A Memoir of War World II
Solomon Perel Margot Bettauer Dembo (Translator)
Europa, Europa; A Memoir of War World II
The wrenching memoir of a young man who survived the Holocaust by concealing his Jewish identity and finding unexpected refuge as a member of the Hitler Youth.
Learning Guide to:
(In German & Russian with English Subtitles)
Subjects: World/WW II;
Character Development: Human Rights; Surviving;
Ethical Emphasis: Trustworthiness.
SELECTING THE MOVIE Quick Discussion Question
Age 13+: Rated R; Drama; 1991; 115 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.
Description: This is the true story of Solomon (Solly) Perel, a 13-year-old German-Jewish boy who was separated from his family during the period between the Hitler-Stalin pact (August, 1939) and the German invasion of Russia (June, 1941). After escaping from Germany to Russian occupied Poland, he was placed in an orphanage operated by the Soviet Government. He joined the Komsomol, the Communist youth organization. When Hitler invaded Russia Solly was captured by the German Army. As a Jew he would be sent to a concentration camp. To save his life he convinced the German soldiers that he was an ethnic German. Solly was now fluent in Russian and was used by the German Army as an interpreter. As a reward for heroism, he was sent to an exclusive school in Germany run by the Hitler Youth organization, where he continued to pose as an ethnic German. Placed back into the German Army at the end of the war, he surrendered to Russian troops. Solly’s older brother, Isaac, had searched for him and survived internment in a concentration camp. The brothers were reunited at the end of the war.
Benefits: This film shows much of the panorama of the Second World War and provides a valuable comparison of communist and Nazi techniques of indoctrinating their youth. It shows the depth and extent of Nazi indoctrination of German youth and the fallacy of the Nazi theory of “Aryan supremacy.” This film is also an excellent platform for a discussion of the similarities and differences between Stalin and Hitler.
Possible Problems: SERIOUS: This is a war movie that shows violence and death. People are shown being beaten and shot. Bloodied dead bodies are shown. The violence is moderately graphic but always appropriate to the plot. There is one scene where Solly is seduced by an older female Nazi Party functionary who has been sent to take him to the Hitler Youth school. This scene is inappropriate but shows no nudity. There are concentration camp scenes.
Selected Awards: 1992 Golden Globe Awards: Best Foreign Film; 1991 National Board of Review Awards: Best Foreign Film; 1991 New York Film Critics Award: Best Foreign Film; 1991 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay.
Featured Actors: Marco Hofschneider, Klaus Abramowsky, Michelle Gleizer, Renee Hofschneider, Nathalie Schmidt.
Director: Agnieszka Holland.
USING THE MOVIE
- Joseph Stalin (1879 – 1953) was the dictator of the Soviet Union from 1924 until he died. Stalin ruled through terror imposed by the Communist Party and its ideology combined with an omnipresent and ruthless secret police. He was a mass murderer on a scale greater than Hitler, but this was not generally known until the Cold War began. See Learning Guide to “The Inner Circle”.
- During the 1930s Stalin and communists the world over were vigorously anti-Nazi and anti-Hitler. All this suddenly changed with the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 in which Russia and Germany agreed not to invade each other and divided Poland between them. The Russians took the eastern half of Poland and the Germans took the western half. In the movie, the scene on the river when the Poles went west toward the Germans and the Jews went east toward the Russians derives from the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939. The communists’ sudden change of attitude toward Germany and Hitler was one the great flip-flops of history. Of course, the communist position toward Germany flip-flopped again after Hitler invaded Russia. This demonstrated Stalin’s personal control over the positions taken by communists world-wide and that those positions were subservient to the national interests of Russia.
- See Learning Guide to The Great Dictator for a discussion of Hitler (first comment) and a description of the term “Aryan” as misused by the Nazis (last comment).
- The Komsomal was the Communist Youth organization. It was a privilege to be invited to join. The Hitler Youth was the Nazi youth organization. Both organizations served the functions that the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts fulfill in the United States but also indoctrinated children with Nazi or Communist propaganda and helped to integrate young people into the party apparatus.
- Since Biblical times Jewish boys have been circumcised shortly after birth. Circumcision is viewed by Jews as a sign of their obedience to God. Circumcision is an operation in which the foreskin over the head of the penis is removed. The opening scene in the movie shows a bris, the Jewish religious ceremony of circumcision, which occurs on the eighth day after the birth of a male child. At the time of World War II usually only Jews were circumcised. This is the background for the scene in the movie when the Armenian man sought to avoid death by pulling down his pants and showing that he was uncircumcised and therefore not Jewish.During World War II doctors came to believe that circumcision was medically beneficial because dirt and dead skin becomes trapped under the foreskin and causes infection. Because of this many non-Jewish children have been circumcised. Some members of the medical community have recently changed their mind and feel that the foreskin can be adequately cleaned and circumcision is now less frequently used for medical reasons.
- In the discussion between the Father and Isaac concerning whether Solly and Isaac should be sent East to avoid the Germans they use the term “it is written.” This refers to the fact that the Jews have an extensive body of written rules for how a moral man is to live in the world. This has given rise to a reverence for the written word. The term “it is written” means that a great scholar or prophet has written down what the solution should be to this particular problem or that the answer lies in the Bible or some other revered text.
- Hitler started a program called Lebensborn in which German women were to donate a child to the Fuhrer. The children would be raised in special camps run by the Nazi Party and have no connection with their parents. They were to be the vanguard of the new German Master Race. Leni, the German girl that Solly thought he loved, became pregnant with a baby she had conceived for the Lebensborn program.
Words and phrases: bourgeois, class origins; ghetto, kosher, Komsomol, Hitler Youth, Stalinist Puppet, to requisition.
- [Standard Questions Suitable for Any Film].
- Why did Leni choose the blond blue-eyed friend of “Josef Peters” to father her baby rather than Josef?
- Why was it important that at the end of the movie Solly and his brother could urinate side by side without hiding?
- Why did Solly have a dream in which Hitler and Stalin were mixed up and danced together? What was the meaning of this scene?
- Did Solly really love Leni? Can you explain his feelings for her?
- What differences, if any, were there in the methods used by the Russians and the Germans to indoctrinate their youth?
- [Quick Discussion Question:] What is the meaning of the scene in the classroom at the school for young Nazis when Solly is singled out as an example of one of the “Aryan” prototypes?
- The young religious Polish patriot who hated Solly claimed that the Jews killed Jesus. This is an old anti-semitic slur which was used to justify pogroms and persecution of the Jews in Europe. Why is this claim spurious? [People living today cannot be blamed for actions taken in approximately 30 B.C.; it was the Roman’s who killed Jesus at the behest of a few Jews, but not of a substantial part of the Jewish population of the time.]Surviving
- What kept Solly going?
- Why did Solly live in daily fear of discovery?
(Teachwithmovies.org is associated with Character Counts and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principals.)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues are designed to maximize the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. One concept from The Six Pillars of Character that is raised in this film is Trustworthiness (Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)
- Isaac never stopped looking for Solly. Can you share with us some examples of family loyalty.
Apart from family, one can experience loyalty in many forms too. When you are investing in a fund, you are ever so loyal to it and will defend it very fiercely, were other investors to talk ill about it, or some App like the Fincrowd App does not rate it well. What we like, we defend for and will be loyal to, for a long long time.
Bridges to Reading: Historical novels dealing with the experiences of Jewish children in WW II that have been recommended for middle school and junior high school readers include: Sheltering Rebecca, by Mary Baylis-White; The Hunted, by Peter Carter; Jacobs’ Rescue: A Holocaust Story, by Malka Rucker & Michael Palperin; To Cross A Line, by Karen Ray; Anna is Still Here, by Ida Vos; Tell Them We Remember the Story of the Holocaust, by Susan D. Bacharch.
Recommended nonfiction books include: The Hidden Children by Howard Greenfeld (interviews with Jewish children hidden from the Nazis by non-Jews); Children of the Swastika: The Hitler Youth by Eileen Heyes, Young People Speak: Surviving the Holocaust in Hungary, compiled & edited by Andrew Gandler & Susan V. Meschel; Behind the Secret Window: A Memoir of a Hidden Child During WW II, by Nelly S. Toll.
Other Movies on Related Topics: All movies listed in the Subject Matter Index under the topic World/WW II/The Holocaust.