Films that Promote Peace & Nonviolence


Europa! Europa!

Europa, Europa
Agnieszka HollandJulie DelpyMarco HofschneiderRené Hofschneider

 Europa, Europa

Format:     Subtitled

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
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:

    Europa! Europa!
(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

Helpful Background:

Words and phrases: bourgeois, class origins; ghetto, kosher, Komsomol, Hitler Youth, Stalinist Puppet, to requisition.

Discussion Questions:
  1. [Standard Questions Suitable for Any Film].
  2. Why did Leni choose the blond blue-eyed friend of "Josef Peters" to father her baby rather than Josef?
  3. Why was it important that at the end of the movie Solly and his brother could urinate side by side without hiding?
  4. Why did Solly have a dream in which Hitler and Stalin were mixed up and danced together? What was the meaning of this scene?
  5. Did Solly really love Leni? Can you explain his feelings for her?
  6. What differences, if any, were there in the methods used by the Russians and the Germans to indoctrinate their youth?

    Character Development


    Human Rights
  7. [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?
  8. 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
  9. What kept Solly going?
  10. Why did Solly live in daily fear of discovery?

    Ethical Emphasis
    (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)
  11. Isaac never stopped looking for Solly. Can you share with us some examples of family loyalty?
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.
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