“Europa Europa” is a German film based on the story of Solomon Perel. Perel wrote an autobiography entitled I Was Hitler Youth Solomon. He was still alive at the time of the filming and even appears as himself in the post script. The film was written and directed by Agnieszka Holland (“In Darkness” and “Angry Harvest” – two other Holocaust films nominated for Best Foreign Film). Her mother was a member of the Polish Resistance and participated in the Warsaw Uprising. She is famous for injecting humanity into her films. “Europa, Europa” was awarded the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, but the German selection committee declined to submit it for the top prize. The movie was critically acclaimed.
The movie foreshadows its framing device by leading with Solomon’s circumcision. On his bar mitzvah, the Night of Broken Glass occurs. Kristallnacht signals the beginning of serious persecution of the Jews. Solomon (Marco Hofschneider) hides naked in a barrel. A friend gives him a coat with a swastika on it which portends his means of survival. His sister is killed in the turmoil and the family moves to Lodz in Poland. When the war begins, Solomon and his brother flee eastward only to run into the Soviet army invading from the east. Solomon and other Jewish refugees cross a river and pass Polish refugees fleeing westward. Separated from his brother, he is put in an orphanage for two years. He becomes a Communist and atheist. When Germany invades Russia, Solly is captured but manages to con the Germans into believing he is an Aryan. They do not insist he drop his drawers. His ability to speak Russian earns him a spot as an interpreter. His biggest problem is hiding his circumcision, but he manages well. “Jupp” becomes something of a mascot and then a lucky charm when his unit captures Stalin’s son. Then he moves up to hero when he inadvertently leads a successful attack. He gets adopted by his commanding officer and is sent to a Hitler Youth school. This movie is full of irony. At the school a eugenics expert selects him as an example of racial theory and then proceeds to demonstrate how Solomon has the classic features of a pure breed. He gets a rabidly anti-Jewish girlfriend named Leni (Julie Delpy whose English was dubbed). Although she wants to have a baby for the fatherland, sex is problematical for the circumcised Jupp. Throughout his adventures he remains extremely lucky. Twice his background is discovered, but he remains safe from the Holocaust until the Battle of Berlin.
“Europa Europa” is a thought-provoking film. If it were not based on a true story, one would scoff at the theme of a Jew who becomes an Aryan. As it is, you are left wondering if he is a crafty survivor or a despicable turncoat. The fact that he is a teenage boy cuts him some slack. Before you say that he was just doing what he had to do, the movie makes it clear that he was seduced by his surroundings. For example, when word arrives at the Hitler Youth school of the German defeat at Stalingrad, Jupp is genuinely upset.
The movie is a pleasure to watch. The cinematography has some pizzazz to it (but jumps the shark a bit with a surreal Hitler/Stalin dance). There is an amazing set piece when Jupp’s unit passes through the Lodz ghetto with its horrifying sights. One of those sights is possibly his mother. He can only gaze upon her. The acting is fine with Hofschneider appropriately teenage boyish. The movie mines some humor in his sexual encounters and the cluelessness of his Nazi comrades. There is a Woody Allen vibe to the movie. The implausibilities of the movie are what weakens it in the mind of a war movie lover like myself. Although based on a memoir and having Perel on set as an adviser, one must be leery of one man’s account of events that cannot be verified. As is typical of a biopic, the climactic final scene is pure Hollywood. In actuality, Perel was captured by the American army and he later located his brother in Dachau concentration camp
The Holocaust subgenre is a strong one and “Europa Europa” is a worthy member. This is partly due to the uniqueness of its story. Perel’s odyssey is entertaining and his deception intriguing. However, it is a bit overrated and not one of the 100 best war movies.