Friday, June 27, 2014

Europa, Europa: The Denial of Rights

The film Europa, Europa tells the enduring tale of Solomon Perel, a young Jewish boy who escapes Nazi’s “final solution” by posing as a German in the Hitler Youth Academy. This movie, though loosely based on a true story, portrays an accurate description of harsh life and rights denied during this time, from the starving Jewish prisoners living in the unsanitary ghettos to German citizens living comfortably in middle class homes, therefore opening my eyes to many truths I never realized before.
          The Nazi regime revoked many fundamental rights from the Jewish population, such as the right to privacy. The movie begins with the officers painting the Star of David on the store window of the shoe store that Perel’s family owns, admitting their religion to anti-semitic community. That night, Kristallnacht occurs, resulting in the death of Solomon’s sister and thus nullifying Jewish’s right of protection of life. Likewise, the Jewish practices of circumcision lead many officers to publicly strip a man’s lower garments to verify his response of being non-Jewish. Solomon fears this humiliation once he sees an elderly man taken away with his pants still sitting around his ankles, much to the amusement of the Nazis and to the horror of the audience, including myself. Most likely, the Nazis drag this man, along with any other Jewish refugees, to the ghettos, which denies food, employment, or any chance of survival.
The barbed wire surrounding a Jewish ghetto.
          The Nazi government often surrounded ghettos with barbed wire and guards; public transportation contained painted windows to conceal these horrendous living conditions to German civilians. This prevents Solomon to search for his family in these slums; when he attempts to open a window to breathe some fresh air, the presiding officer laughs. This implies that the racist German population believed that Jews were fifthly animals, therefore denying these people the right to being human. They even tried to prove that Jews possess physical qualities that demonstrate their animalistic, unintelligent nature through racial science. These outrages efforts brought me to denial: I couldn't believe the measures the Nazis took to humiliate the Jews! Ironically, much to my humor, the professor fails to prove that Solomon was a Jew when he measures his skull in a class presentation.

According the Nazi racial science, the nose must be around 2.83
centimeters wide to belong to the Aryan race.
          This film, however, successfully presents that not all Germans shares the same views as history often paints to today’s generation. During the time in the army and school, soldiers and students treat Solomon with respect, often acknowledging his bravery in the war and willingly welcome him as a friend. Some Germans, like Robert and Leni’s mother accept and vow to keep Solomon safe when he confesses his secret. Both reveal that not all Germans believe in the Nazi propaganda; Leni’s mother even cries at the transformation of her daughter when she decides to donate her child to the Lebensborn program. This scene forced me to understand that the Hitler regime horrified most Germans, especially the older generations, but kept quiet in fear of prosecution and thus decided to follow orders with no questions asked. It then made me question my previous beliefs about the ruthless army eager to dominate Europe: perhaps, I wondered, they conquered others in order to protect themselves? Maybe they were scared, like the Jews, of being humiliated and inferior in the eyes of other nations, just like after WWI? The Nazi government also managed to steal the civilian population’s freedom of speech as well as the right to know the government’s activity, such as the existence of concentration camps. Solomon believes, like his commanding officers, that the government plan to relocate the Jewish population to Madagascar until the Soviet leaders show him pictures showing the horrifying truth.
 The Soviets, though aggressively strive to defeat Hitler, also denied their people rights, such as freedom of religion. At an orphanage, when a few students attempt to resist the regime by proclaiming the existence of a superior being, the leaders derail their argument by dropping candles to young children when they ask Stalin to give them candles; before, the young degenerates plead to God for the same miracle, but with no response. If not for the German planes bombing the school, the instructors would have most likely punish these students. Additionally, they encouraged discrimination to anyone who belonged in the bourgeoisie class; the school almost denies Solomon entrance to the Komsomol when they discover that his parents own a store.
Overall, I like the movie for doubting my previous beliefs about Nazi Germany, as well as providing an underdog story that weaves together the miracle of overcoming the odds (e.g. bombing of the station that sent for his official papers), but at the same time humanize the character by seeing him break down many times due to fear and isolation. The movie is a must see for all who wants not only the truth during WWII, but for people who want to see a story of survival and perseverance when surrounded by enemies who are just as confuse and lost as the main character.

Today, Solomon Perel often travels across Europe to tell about his unbelievable experiences. The movie is based on his book, Ich war Hitlerjunge Salomon (I Was Hitler Youth Salomon).

Europa, Europa directed by Agnieszka Holland; based on the true story of Solomon Perel


Movie Title:


Racial Science:

Solomon Perel:

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