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This week’s installment in the Ethical Dilemmas on Film series is Europa, Europa, a 1990 film directed byAgnieszka Holland. The film was adapted from the autobiography of Solomon Perel, a Jewish man from Germany who survived World War II as a boy by hiding his identity from the Nazis. The original title of the film, Hitlerjunge Salomon (literally, Hitler Youth Salomon), provides more of a clue to the specific kinds of peril involved in Perel’s struggle than does the less descriptive title under which the film was released. Here are some questions to get you started in your reflection on the ethical issues raised in the film.

How many times in how many ways does Solly escape?

Why does Agnieszka Holland begin Solly’s story the way she does? What is the effect of the opening scenes? What do we learn about Solly’s family during these scenes? 

How does this film differ from other films you’ve seen about the Holocaust? Why do you prefer Europa, Europa? Or why do you prefer Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice, The Diary of Anne Frank, Life is Beautiful, The Pianist, Holocaust, etc.? 
What’s the reason for the comic scenes? 
When is Solly acting? Are there scenes in which it is difficult to decide if his actions are performed or real? 
Isaac tells Solly, “Don’t tell your story to anyone. No one will believe it.” Does Solly tell us his story with ease? What is the effect of hearing a story that he has been advised to suppress? 
What is the significance of the dream sequences? 
Why does Agnieszka Holland shoot the scenes of the Lodz ghetto the way she does? How does this style of shooting relate to the larger film? 
Consider the significance of the following lines:
“Children nowadays – they’re so different.” 
“I barely hesitated to have [my sons] circumcised.” 
“If you were a Jew, you’d look like this.” 
“I didn’t know. . . .I thought Madagascar.” 

Do you sympathize with Solly or are you shocked by his behavior?

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22 Responses to Europa, Europa: Fragen zum Nachdenken


    I want to start off by saying that I am a huge fan of Holocaust films. I have seen many film and read almost anything I can get my hands on. I even used to study with Jewish studies minor at the previous university. This film, along with The Pianist, are two of my favorite films of all time. I think that is because we as a culture love to sympathize with a character in hiding. As a person who has had little hardship in my life, I think that I find these stories so extreme and adventurous that other films with less action and suspense do not, in a way, seem to measure up.

    Though I love both The Pianist and Europa Europa, the two films are very different for a variety of obvious reasons. In The Pianist, Szpilman spends most of the film either working in a Jewish Labor camp or in hiding after bombings. I kept this film in mind during Europa Europa because of Solly’s fascination with the Jewish ghetto’s. In The Pianist, the setting in amazingly devastating. The images that are shown are upsetting and very powerful. There are many powerful images in Europa Europa as well however, the reactions we as an audience see are mainly from the soldiers, and not from the victims. Although both films show the aspects of devastation and victory, the point of view skews our opinion in a way. This also makes us relate to the characters in a different way. We root for their survival in different ways. I personally was running different scenarios through my head for each character getting caught, and I found that even though they were both in hiding, my expectations were different.


    I can’t decide if I love or hate Europa, Europa for its portrayal of the Holocaust. I feel like the Holocaust should almost be treated with a bit more reverence than I thought the film did. For as serious as it was, Solly really didn’t feel anything close to the pain that his family did. We see at the end that Solly’s brother survived out of the whole family, but we really didn’t even see Solly remembering them much throughout the film. Even when they’re reunited, Solly is much more reserved than his brother. It just seems that Solly’s fortune cheapened the Holocaust, almost putting rose-colored glasses on the situation.
    On the other hand, though, it’s nice to see a relatively happy story coming out of the Holocaust. Everyone knows the events of what happened there, most people wouldn’t take this as an accurate portrayal of the average Jew through the Holocaust. But compared to other movies that are extremely sad and revealing of the true experiences, such as Schindler’s List, The Pianist, and many others, it’s nice to see that there were some experiences that weren’t quite as rough.
    This is not to say that Solly doesn’t struggle, though. He constantly has many identities battling themselves, never quite sure who he is and who he is pretending to be, let alone when those two begin to overlap. He is not the only person that the Holocaust caused to question their identity, and in that way he did share a struggle with many of his people. At the end, though, he appears to have settled on his identity, perfectly content in who he is.

  3. GWEN K FRIES says:

    When I realized this was a movie about the Holocaust, I had to fight the urge to run right out of the theater. My best friend since the day of Kindergarten orientation is Jewish, and I spent at least four days a week at her house growing up. I went to services with her, I went to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, I helped clean the synagogue every week. To me, Jews are some of the best people this world has to offer. I pretty much consider myself a Jew. So every time I think about the Holocaust, I just think what if that had been Hannah and her family? I’m German. She’s Jewish. What if that had been us? When we went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., I gave her a tight hug and promised her that I would have hidden her and her family in my house. Watching this movie brought all of those questions back. If I had been in Solly’s position, would I have lied about my identity or would I have stayed true to my God and my people? Would I have hidden Hannah and her family? It raises a lot of questions to which I’m not positive I have the answers.

    I imagine myself to be somewhat courageous. If you had a gun to my head and told me that you’d end my life then and there if I didn’t renounce Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I’d let you put a hole in my head. If I were in a situation where I’d be killed if it was found out that I was an American, I’d step forward and say the Pledge of Allegiance. My religion and my country are far more valuable to me than my life. I think in life there are far worse things than dying. Would I be saying the same thing if I were a Jew living in Nazi Germany? I’d like to think so, but I honestly could never know until I’d been in that situation. When I hear stories from concentration camps, I cannot help feeling that being gassed may have been the better alternative. That sentence is incredibly sick, I know, but every sentence uttered about the Holocaust is horrid and sick.

    So, was Solly right to hide his true identity? It’s not my place as an American kid who’s had everything handed to her her entire life to say. But, a question cropped up in my mind: If Solly thought the Jews were going to Madagascar, why did he hide that he was a Jew? Granted, I wouldn’t want to move to Madagascar, but I’d rather be eaten alive in the jungles of Madagascar and have my God than turn into a murderer and a traitor. I think he was a little bit more in the wrong if he truly believed that the Jews were being shipped off to that remote island. Did he believe that? I don’t think he did. I think that was a coping mechanism for him, even at the start.

    Again, I’ve never been in a situation that horrible. I’ve honestly lived a charmed life and will readily admit it. I’m probably luckier than 99.9999% of the world’s people. It’s not for me to say how one should have reacted. The right thing to do would have been to stand firm to one’s beliefs no matter the peril. What happens in real life is something else entirely. What matters is that Solly went back to his religion and his people at the end.


    I’m most interested in focusing on Solly’s behavior and his decision to protect himself, even if it meant denying his heritage. I agree with Kylie, that I don’t blame Solly for any of his actions in the film. I think that our instinct to be angry with him for hiding his true self is rooted in our own feelings of heritage pride and the general human sense of belonging. If you belong to a religion or culture, you are supposed to be proud to be a part of that team. You should let others know who you are. But in Solly’s case, does this really apply? I think not. If I were in Solly’s shoes, and I were being persecuted for being, let’s say for this purpose, Irish…I would deny that I was. I would find any excuse to shirk that label, if it meant I was to be brutally slaughtered. How can one be blamed for this?
    I think an ethical question that the film raises is the idea of loyalty to oneself and one’s people. To whom is the loyalty owed? This film twists your mind into wanting to believe that the latter is the right answer, and that is why it’s easy to be annoyed with Solly. But whether Solly’s actions were for himself or his fellow Jews (they were for himself, it would seem) weren’t his actions some of the most subversive things a Jew could do…to impersonate a Nazi, right under their noses? In this way, Solly may be protecting himself, but he represents an idea of skilled survival. Today you hear stories from Holocaust survivors, speaking about hiding in flour sacks, in car trunks, under floorboards…all just to escape the certain death they faced. We applaud these people for their strength and courage, as we should. But Solly is no different, and in this way, his story of survival is not only an individual triumph, but an added trophy to the testament of a shared people, the Jews, and the strong will and courage they share as a community, even in the face of unspeakable inhumanity.


    An important thing to remember while watching this film is that we as new generation Americans, have never encountered anything close to the tragedy that was the Holocaust. Personally, I want to take the side of sympathizing with Solly because he was, after all, only 16. At the age of 16 and being put in situations that have to do with life and death and also the thought of being a part of a war are things no one truly prepares for. He did what he had to do to be able to survive and there comes a certain point where race, religion, and any other sort of pride may have to take a backseat to survival. I believe when people grow older and solidify their beliefs, it embodies so much of their life that taking a bullet for standing up for themselves would be a no-brainer. Interestingly enough, when a young teenager attempts to save his own life by going against what he is meant to believe in, no one sees the beauty in it. He is simply trying to savor life instead of lose it. I respect the lengths he goes to in order to accomplish this feat, however, there is always the technicality that he was a Jew and that being a Nazi soldier could be the biggest sin there was. You could argue to say that becoming a soldier fell into his lap with how lucky he was in a lot of situations was a blessing and a curse.

  6. Natalie Masters says:

    I can find no way to fault Solly for attempting to sustain his own life throughout the entirety of the film. I believe the filmmaker attempted to reassure the viewers that he cannot be blamed for the choices he made to escape the concentration camp and death. The ability of his brother to forgive Solly is the only decision that matters. It is not up to the viewers to decide if he should be forgiven. As discussed in class, we have no comprehension of the difficulty of being Jewish during the Holocaust. We can sit back and judge his decisions from the semi-cozy atmosphere of the State Theater, but the only final judge that matters is Solly’s brother. He did not blink an eye when his brother turned up in a German uniform after years of being separated. He was simply ecstatic to find his kin still living, it never mattered how he managed to stay alive.
    Even after last Monday’s discussion I still believe Solly was fighting for a cause. His goal throughout the entire story was to reunite with his family. He spent days trying to get a glimpse of the families who were living inside the ghetto. The filming of this was also a unique choice. As Solly rides through the ghetto he only receives snippets of information through the paint that he carefully chips away. He is unable to put these pieces into any puzzle since this is the first sign of containment that he has seen of the holocaust. He is so concentrated on searching for his family that he is convinced the first woman he catches a glimpse of is his mother.
    The dream sequence makes very little sense to me. However, it might show that Solly does not know what to make of his surroundings either. As a 16 year old he really does not understand the world before the Holocaust. There can be no way that he is able to understand the course of actions during the Holocaust. We get a glimpse of this when he is trying to practice the “Heil, Hitler” sign and ends up breaking down into dance moves.


    During the movie, I sympathized with Solly. When Solly leaves home, a young adolescent, his mother and father want him to survive, and that’s what he does. The guilt nearly destroys him. For example, he dreams this family is all sitting down to dinner and no one can hear him. He feels anger when peers, his friends and even girlfriend, disparage his group with their barbed words. He rides through the ghetto over and over in search of his family. But if he speaks up, if he admits his Judaism, what will become of him then? Nothing would have been gained if Solly had died—moreover, we would have lost the moving story with him.
    It seems ironic that a group of people who champion our society’s right to hold any religious belief without fear of death or persecution would question the morality of holding ones tongue about religion for fear of death. We say religious preferences should not be the reason for one’s death, yet we question the survival of one who cast aside his family’s religion in the face of death.
    Perhaps I would feel differently if Solly conducted acts to hurt the Jewish people he is a part of—but it seems to me that when he is in war, he is merely being. He is not doing anything actively to hurt anyone. In fact, he tries to cross to the other side multiple times until he finally succeeds. When he finally does cross over, he seems shocked at the true horrors his people have been through. “But, I thought, Madagascar,” he explains, but was that explanation ever believable? Perhaps it was just a defense mechanism to protect a tortured mind—but either way, I can’t blame him.
    I was shocked to learn that this movie is based on a true story. Curious, I read articles about the real “Solly.” In one of the articles, Solly discusses the time when he went to the ghetto to try to find his parents, and instead found only suffering and despair. “That’s when I lost complete touch with God,” Solly explained. As sad as that may seem to those of us who hold religious beliefs, we cannot fully understand what living through the Holocaust must have been to Solly. And we certainly can’t argue for him dying for a religion he did not even believe in.

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