Agnieszka Holland’s movie Europa, Europa is based on the true story of Salomon Perel. It is frequently mentioned as one of the top 100 war movies. It’s a harrowing and quite unbelievable story, still I have to confess that I did not like it.
The Perels are a Jewish family living in Germany at the beginning of the war. When anti-Jewish acts become more and more frequent, they are attacked and the daughter is killed. Salomon’s parents send the young boy and his brother to Poland where he should try to survive at any cost. He looses his brother early in the movie and ends in a Russian communist orphanage. Here he is given a passport and has to undergo some serious communist re-education. When the Germans invade Russia, the orphanage is attacked. They all flee and Salomon gets captured on the way by a Nazi patrol. All the Jews are shot immediately and it is only thanks to an extreme presence of mind that Salomon manages to make them belive that he is a true German and that he can be extremely useful as interpreter since he speaks Russian fluently. The soldiers take him along and he fights with them, helps them as a translator. He has to be super careful that no one sees him naked and this will stay a constant topic throughout the movie. The fact that he is circumcised would give his identity away.
A German officer hears of the young boy and that he is an orphan. He likes the bright boy and thinks of adopting him but first he sends him to one of the Nazi elite schools where he will be educated and trained. Here again, he has to be careful in order to not be found out. There are a few incredible scenes in the school. In one scene a teacher shows that one can see unmistakably, that, despite his dark hair, Salomon is of pure Aryan breed. The pupils are taught to hate the Jews and how to detect them. The absurdity of such scenes is incredible and Nazi madness made apparent.
Salomon is barely 16 years old and falls in love for the first time. Although the girl is willing “to do it”, he has to say no. The danger of being detected is too big.
It is incredible to think that he got away with it for so long. He blended in so perfectly, was such a good actor and so cold-blooded that they never even suspected him to be Jewish.
After the war Salomon finds out that his whole family died in a ghetto in Poland. He leaves Europe and settles in Palestine. At the end of the movie we catch a glimpse of the real Salomon Perel.
It took me a while to figure out why I didn’t like this movie. I didn’t like it because I didn’t like Salomon. I suspect that I found his behaviour cowardly. He isn’t much better than a collaborator. It disgusted me to see him act and talk like a Nazi. Sure, he was only a boy, he wanted to survive, he lost his family… I think sometimes it’s better to die than to sell out. Bit harsh, I know, but surviving is not everything.
I’d be really interested to know what others think of this movie.
Europa, Europa is part of the Children in War Movies List