Europa Europa (1990)

Europa Europa
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Writer: Agnieszka Holland
Based on: Solomon Perel‘s autobiography Ich war Hitlerjunge Salomon
Cast: Marco Hofschneider, André Wilms, Ashley Wanninger, Klaus Abramowsky, Delphine Forest, René Hofschneider, Julie Delpy, Hanns Zischler, Martin Maria Blau, Bernhard Howe, Klaus Kowatsch, Holger Kunkel, Halina Labonarska
Seen on: 19.8.2021

Content Note: holocaust, anti-semitism, fascism, sexualized violence

Plot:
Solomon (Marco Hofschneider), called Sally, lives with his Jewish family in Germany, but with the rise of the Nazis, the situation becomes ever more dangerous for them. After his sister is killed, the remaining family makes its way to Poland, hoping to be safe there. When the Nazis come to Poland, too, Sally becomes separated from the rest of his family. He first finds shelter in a Russian school, but after the Nazis catch up with him there, too, he doesn’t have many options left. When he finds himself face to face with German soldiers, he tells them that he is a “Volksdeutscher”, member of a German minortiy in Poland, and since his language skills prove him to be a valuable interpreter, he is taken in. But it’s not that easy to pretend that he isn’t Jewish.

Europa Europa gives us an important perspective on World War 2 – one on what it could mean to simply survive, and how hard even the “lucky” persecuted people had it. It’s a really memorable film with a memorable protagonist.

The film poster showing Solomon (Marco Hofschneider) leaning over Leni (Julie Delpy) to kiss her.

Europa Europa is a tale of survival, and sometimes one has to do shitty things to survive. It’s as simple as that, so the film never condemns Sally for working with the Nazis, or for switching sides at every available opportunity. He certainly fared better with this strategy, personally, than the rest of his family.

The film makes sure, though, that we, like Sally, never forget how much he has to keep hidden and how a single glance could out him as Jewish and destroy him utterly – it would be enough that somebody saw his circumcised penis. Even though there is an apparent lightness to the film and to Sally’s struggle, the enormity of what having to hide a part of himself away from the world means weighs heavily and brings them film back time and again from becoming a simple adventure for Sally (which, unsurprisingly, would have been an utter disservice to the story and its setting). [(Formerly) Closeted folk can probably relate really, really hard.]

Solomon (Marco Hofschneider) with his arms behind his head in front of a German soldier.

And the film keeps reminding us that Sally is a kid. A kid who would like to have his first sexual experiences, who believes the things taught to him in many ways, and who would like to return to his family. Hofschneider was a good choice for the role, capturing Sally’s longing, adaptability and charm.

It’s an impressive film that tells a clear story (not always easy with a biography). It’s a good watch that makes it easy to sink into the film, but the longer I think about it, the heavier the film becomes. And that really is a compliment.

Solomon (Marco Hofschneider) in his German class.

Summarizing: Absolutely worth seeing.

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