One of the best know German films about the Hitler Youth and World War II is Europa, Europa. It is about a Jewish boy who ends up in the HJ during the war. It is particularly poignent because it is the true story of Solomon (Solly) Perel, a 13-year-old German-Jewish boy who is separated from his family during the period between the Hitler-Stalin pact (August 1939) and the German invasion of Russia (June 1941). "You must stay alive!" was his mother's parting admonition. With these words ringing in his ears, fourteen-year-old Solomon Perel set out from Nazi-occupied Poland hoping to find safety across the new Soviet frontier. Like large numbers of other Jews fleeing the Germans, Perel faced staggering odds against his survival. What actually transpired was far different from what
anyone could have imagined. By a twist of fate, the young Jew found unexpected refuge ... as a student in an elite Hitler Youth boarding school. Europa, Europa recounts Solomon Perel's harrowing struggle living in a nightmare from which there seemed no escape.
Solomon (Solly) Perel, a 13-year-old
German-Jewish boy who is separated from his family during the period
between the Hitler-Stalin pact (August 1939) and the German invasion of Russia (June 1941). After escaping Germany to Russian occupied Poland, he is placed in an orphanage operated by the Soviet Government. He joins the Komsomol, the Communist youth organization. When Hitler invades Russia he is captured by the German Army. To save his life he convinces them that he is an ethnic German. Solly is now fluent in Russian and is used by the German Army as an interpreter. As a reward for heroism, he is sent to an exclusive school in Germany run by the Hitler Youth organization, where he continues to pose as an ethnic German. Solly wearst the Hitler Youth uniform. Here he is terrified of being exposed as a circumcized boy when he has to undress. In the end an Allidbomb destroys records making it impossibl to trace birth records. Placed back into the German Army at the end of the War, he surrenders to Russian troops. Solly's brother searches for him and survives internment in a concentration camp. The brothers are reunited at the end of the War.
This wonderful German film, "Europa. Europa" (1990), directed by Agnieska Holland Europa, Europa won many 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.
Marco Hofschneider played Soloman Perel. Featured actors included: Klaus Abramowsky, Michelle Gleizer, Renee Hofschneider, Nathalie Schmidt. The Director was Agnieszka Holland.
The film is about the true-life experiences of Solomon Perel. It is based on his autobiography Europa, Europa. The writer/director took a few artistic liberties along the way. The book is fascinating in and of itself, however, not as ironic as the movie in the way events twisted and turned. And, in fact, the movie version left out a great deal of information. I supose that is inevitable. The basic plot, however, is factual. Solomon Perel was born into aewsish family in Germany (April 21, 1925). He grew up in Peine, near Hanover. His parents realized after Hitler and the NAZIs seized power and began his anti-Semetic campaign that they are in danger (1933). When Perel was 10 years old, the family moved to Lodz, a Polish industrial city with a substantial Jewish population (1935). Perel already fluent in German, becomes fluent in Polish. The NAZIs and Soviets invaded 4 years later, paritioning Poland (1939). The NAZIs immediately begin their brutal treatment of Jews. His parents decide to send Perel now 14 year old with his older brother Isaac to the Soviet occupation zone where they believe it will be safer. The whole family does not go because neither the Germans or NAZIs allow refugeees to cross the new border. Those found could be shot or committed to labor camps. The parents do not think they could survive the rigors of a sureptitious crossing. They think the healthy teenage boys might make it. Perel and his brother get separated as they cross the river separating the two zones. They managed to find each other and contact Jewish organization which sends Perel to an orphanage in Grodno. Grodno or Hrodna is today a city in western Belarus on the Neman River close to the borders of Poland and Lithuania. The Soviets took over all Polish institutions such as schools and orphanages. Thus it is a Soviet run orphanage which has a Communist program. Perel's brother is older and tries to fit in to the new Communist controlled eastern Poland which Stalin annexed to the Soviet Union. At the orphanage, Perel returns to a somewhat normal life (1939-41). The Soviets also began a brutal occupation program designed like the NAZIs to stamp out Polish nationalism. The major difference was that Jews were not targetted, Thus Perel does not have to hide the fact that he is Jewish. He even manages to join the the Komsomol, the Communist youth organization. The Germans have not yet begun the mass killing operation of the Holocaust. He is able to write his parents and receives letters back from them. The NAZIs invade the Soviet Union as [art of Operation Barbarossa (June 1941). The western Soviet Union (former eastern Poland) is quickly overrun. The Soviers try to evacuate the orphanage. In the chaos of the evacuation and NAZI Blitzkrieg Perel gets separated from the evacuation group. He is found by German soldiers. Having experience with the Germans, he decided to pretend not to be Jewish. He manages to bury his identity papers and as he does not look Jewish, the Germans do not suspect. As he speaks German fluently, he tells the soldiers that he is an ethnic German. As part of the German invasion, Einsatzgruppen are killing all the Jews they encounter, including women and children. This decision thus saves his life. Perel tells the Germans that the Soviets killed his parents and forced him into the orphanage. He makes up a German name -- Josef Perjell. The Germans found him useful as a translator as they punge into the Soviet Union. He of course has to hide his identity, but there is a dangerous secret. He is circumsized which would immeditely betray the fact that he is Jewish--Germans were not circumsized. A soldier who tries to make homsexual advances on him finds out that he is circumcised. He promises not to reveal the secret. That soldier is killed. Josef on the other hand destinguishes himself. The officers decided to send him 'home' to Germany to go to school. This begin his odessy in NAZI Germany. He is sent to a NAZI Party boarding school. He thus finds himself surrounded by ardent NAZIs who regard him as a kind of war hero. He is able to avoid showeing with the others, but a huge problem arises with the required medical phyical. He also meets girl he likes. Ironically the most dangerous time comes at the end of the War and the arrival of Red Army soldiers who almost shoot him as a NAZI.
This brilliant film shows much of the panorama of Wotld War II. It 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 the NAZIs and Soviet Communists.
Joseph Stalin (1879 - 1953) was the dictator of the Soviet Union from 1924 until he died in 1953. Stalin ruled The Soviet Union through terror imposed by the Communist Party and its ideology combined with an omnipresent and ruthless secret police. Historiand debate whether the terror suposedly unleased by Stalin was a perversion of the communism or, in a less virulent incarnation, a inherent part of any communist government. Stalin in fact was a mass murderer on a scale even greater than Hitler, but this was not generally known until the Cold War began. There was a difference in the horrors unleased by these two men and their idelology. For the NAZIs the Hollocaust was a logical extension of their ideology of racial superority. If they killed fewer people than Stalin and his cohorts it was only because they had less time and lost the War. The Communist killings were not part of the ideological ethos of Communism. A reflection of this is that Jewish children were a special target for the NAZIs. Jewish children were the immediately gassed or murdered in other ways upon arrival at the concentration camps. This was in part an economic matter, children could not work. But it was much more than this. Himmler instructed his SS subordinates that the children had to be killed, least they grow up and priceed to wreek vengence. He complimented the SS on their courage in facing up to their duty in this regard. There were no Soviet policies of this nature.
Stalin and communists the world over were vigorously anti-Nazi and
anti-Hitler until the NAZI-Soviet Non-aggression Pact (August 1939) in which Russia and Germany divided Poland in two. The Russians took the Eastern half and the Germans took the Western half. Often forgotten in histories of World War II is that from August 1939 to June 1941 that Stalin and Hitler were defacto allies. In the movie, the scene on the river when the Poles went west to the Germans and the Jews went east to the Russians is derived from the non-aggression pact. In one of the great flip-flops of history, immediately after the Non-aggression Pact, communist criticism of Hitler ceased, both in Russia and by Communists in Western Europe and America. This demonstrated Stalin's personal control over the positions taken by communists world-wide and how those positions were subservient to the national interests of the Soviet state. Of course, the communist position toward Germany flip-flopped again when Hitler invaded Russia (June 1941).
The Komsomal/Young Pioneers were the Communist Youth organization. The two organizations are depicted in the film. but more attention is given to the Hitler Youth. Everyone in the Soviet Union joined the Pioneers and the most idelogically committed were invited to join the Komsomal. It was a privilege to be invited to join. The Hitler Youth was the Nazi youth organization. Both organizations served the functions that the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts fulfill in the United States but also indoctrinated children with NAZI or Communist propaganda and helped to integrate young people into the party apparatus and in the case of the Hitler Youth--the military.
Since Biblical times Jewish boys have been circumcised shortly after
birth. Circumcision is viewed by Jews as a sign of their obedience to
God. Circumcision is an operation in which the foreskin over the head
of the penis is removed. The opening scene in the movie shows a bris,
the Jewish religious ceremony of circumcision, which occurs on the
8th day after the birth of a male child. At the time of World War II
usually only Jews were circumcised. This is the background for the
scene in the movie when the Armenian man sought to avoid death by
pulling down his trousers and showing that he was uncircumcised and
therefore not Jewish. During World War II doctors came to believe that circumcision was medically beneficial because dirt and dead skin becomes trapped under the foreskin and causes infection. Because of this many non-Jewish children have been circumcised, especially in America. Some members of the medical community have recently changed their mind and feel that the foreskin can be adequately cleaned and circumcision is now less frequently used for medical reasons.
In the discussion between the Father and Isaac concerning whether
Solly and Isaac should be sent East to avoid the Germans they use the term "it is written." This refers to the fact that the Jews have an extensive body of written rules for how a moral man is to live in the world. This has given rise to a reverence for the written word. The
term "it is written" means that a great scholar or prophet has written
down what the solution should be to this particular problem or that
the answer lies in the Bible or some other revered text.
Hitler started a program called Lebensborn in which German women were to donate a child to the Fuhrer. The children would be raised in special camps run by the Nazi Party and have no connection with their parents. They were to be the vanguard of the new German Master Race. Leni, the German girl that Solly thought he loved, became pregnant with a baby she had conceived for the Lebensborn program. The se children were to be raised by the SS to be tough and without sentiment or pitty.
Some of the insights concerning clothing noted in the movie include:
The first photograph is from the section of the film when "Solly" escapes to Russia (the Soviet Union) and joins the Komsomal, the Communist Youth Organization. Here we see the Komosol youth directing younger boys in the Young Pioneers. The uniform shown is white shirts with red neckerchiefs and short pants. The children are depicted as wearing a very standardized uniform similar to that worn after World War II, We are not sure how accrare this depiction is for 1940. Some of the boys wear knee socks, others wear long stockings. This photograph shows younger boys, but the same uniform was worn by boys as old as 16 and 17, and the older boys, as shown in the film, wear both knee socks and long stockings.
The film is very accurate as regards boys' dress and serves as a good record of the period it depicts. The movie dramatizes the harrowing experiences of a 14-year-old German-Jewish boy who undergoes many experiences, both frightening and comic, of trying to conceal his identity as a Jew and stay alive during the horrors of World War II in Germany, Poland, and the Soviet Union. Hitler Youth uniforms are seen a various points in the film. The boys at the NAZI boarding school also wear destinctive uniforms. Notice that while at the Comunist orphanage that there was no comparable attention to uniforms. The book was slim on clothing details, except for the details of Solomon's uniform, which were nothing akin to the movie version (which, in and of themselves, was to call upon the archetype that most people recognize: brown shirts, black short trousers and boots, belts and straps, insignia and knee socks--and here the film uses
white knee socks as the standard issue, while other sources of photographic descriptions seems to suggest tan/khaki as the prevailing color; and yes, the poorer, working class boys just wore their usual knee socks, which could be tan, brown, gray, black or white. I have seen some units wearing all of the above, or as much as one can tell from black and white photographs). One HBC contributor asks if there was a difference, perhaps, between the Jungvolk and the Hitler Jungen? He is reading an autobiography, "I am currently reading illustrates through photos an entire squad of Jungvolk, all of whom wear tan/khaki knee socks." ndeed there were differences in the Deutche Jugenfolk and the Hitler Youth uniforms. HBC disccusses the uniform in detail on the Hitler Youth uniform page.
The films Europa, Europa and The Tin Drum, and Swing Kids are interesting. E,E is my favorite among them - the plotline and story are more compelling. I
read The Tin Drum as a junior in a 20th century history class at the U. of Mississippi. The film is true to the novel and fascinating. -- JB
This is one of the most important films about boys in the NAZI period ever made. It deserves an important place on the HBC website. -- Charles
The subject of NAZI Germany's Hitler Youth has fascinated fim makers since the very first years of the Third Reich. Several films have been made specifically on the Hitler Youth, but it is a rare film about NAZI Germany that does not include a required scene with Hitler Youth boys. The most notable such scene is from the Broadway musical Cabaret. Information on several other Hitler Youth films, several made in Germany, are avialable on HBC. The first such film was made in Germany, Hitler Jugend Quex. While it looks rather hokey to us today, it had a powerful impact in mid-190s Germany. The prevelence of the Hitler Youth in movies is extrodinary. The much larger Boy Scout movement is rarely depicted in films. The Hitler Youth, however, is rarely left out in a film with a German setting from the late 1920s to 1945.
The Holocaust was conducted by NAZI Germany. Germany had one of the most assimilated Jewish communities in Europe. This was initially a proble for the NAZIs. After Germany's defeat in World War I, virulent anti-semitism was a major feature of many right-wing nationalist groups. The worst features of these groups becamce German government
policy after NAZI leader Adolf Hitler seized power in Germany. President Hindenburg named NAZI leader Adolf Hitler Chancellor of Germany (January 1933). Hitler almost immediately on April 1, 1933, launched the nationl campaign against the country's Jews on April 1, 1933. [Berenbaum, p. 21.] The NAZIs in the following 6 years before launching
World War II introduced over 400 different laws to percecute Jewish Germans. The laws were carefully crafted to isolate, excluded, degrade, rob, and disinfranchise German Jews. German Führer Adolf Hitler at the Nuremberg Party Congress on September 15, 1935 announced
three new laws that were to be cornerstones of German racist policies and the supression of Jews and other non-Aryans. Organization genius Heinrich Himmler and his brutally efficient SS were Hitler's tools to carry out the Holocaust. A necessary step in both Hitler's seizure of power and the Holocaust was the creation of concentration camps. These lead directly after the start of World War II to the Death Camps opened in occupied Poland. The NAZIs gave particularly attention to education and control of the German educational system. They were well aware that it would be difficult to convert many adults and only a minority of Germand had ever voted for the NAZIs in democratic elections. The children were a different matter. In this regard the Hitle Youth program was a valuable tool.Even the NAZIs, before World War II, hesitted at genocide. World War II changed this and removed the last inhibitions. The swift conquest of Poland left the NAZIs in control of Poland's large Jewish population (September/October 1939). The collpase of the Fench Army esentially left the NAZIs in contriol of Western Europe (June 1940). The NAZIs and much of the ret of Europe thought that the Germans had won the War. Reservations and inhibitions that some Germans might have felt had been reduced or eliminted by NAZI anti-semetic propaganda and education and the belief that NAZIism was Europe's future for th next 1,000 years.
Historical novels dealing with the experiences of Jewish children in World War II include:
Bacharch, Susan D. Tell Them We Remember the Story of the Holocaust.
Baylis-White, Mary. Sheltering Rebecca.
Carter, Peter. The Hunted.
Perel, Solomon. Europa, Europa.
Ray, Karen. To Cross A Line.
Rucker, Malka and Michael Palperin. Jacobs' Rescue: A Holocaust Story.
Vos, Ida. Anna is Still Here.
Recommended non-fiction books include:
Frank, Ann. he Diary of Ann Frank.
Gandler, Andrew and Susan V. Meschel. Compiled & edited, Young People Speak: Surviving the Holocaust in Hungary.
Greenfeld, Howard. The Hidden Children (interviews with Jewish children hidden from the Nazis by non-Jews).
Heyes, Eileen. Children of the Swastika: The Hitler Youth.
Toll, Nelly S. Behind the Secret Window: A Memoir of a Hidden Child During World war II.
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