Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Holocaust Remembrance Day

The UN, and several countries in Europe, commemorate the Holocaust on January 27. (Israel commemorates it in late April, with the date being set according to the Jewish calendar; the US marks the occasion on May 8, which is V-E Day in western Europe.) An appropriate movie for the day is Europa, Europa. Remarkably, it's based on a true story.

Marco Hofschneider plays Solomon Perel, a member of a Jewish family from Germany. When the Nazis began to persecute Jews, Solomon and his family moved to Poland, with Solomon later ending up in the Soviet Union, claiming to be an orphan, after the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. Things got worse when the Nazis invaded the USSR. Solomon, thinking fast when the group of refugees of which he was a part was stopped by the Nazis, declared that he was an ethnic German living in the Soviet Union (many Germans had emigrated to Russia in the time of Catherine the Great, so it was a perfectly plausible lie), aided by the fact that having actually been born in Germany, he spoke fluent German.

The Germans fell for the lie, and Solomon was sent to a Hitler Youth school. Solomon was forced to maintain a false identity, doing everything he could to keep anybody from finding out that was actually Jewish. (Considering that Jews are ritually circumcised and most European Christians aren't circumcised, this posed some interesting problems.) Along the way, Perel falls in love with an Aryan girl, fights in the Nazi army, and tries to figure out what's happened to the rest of his family, who had unavoidably split up in 1939.

This is a difficult story, made all the more fascinating by the fact that it's pretty much true. Hofschneider, however, does an excellent job as the young man who can't trust anybody, and often has to play both sides against the middle just to survive. (The Soviets and Germans were both pretty harsh with each other's POWs.) Director Agnieszka Holland does a good job in telling the story, and is helped by cinematography that makes the movie beautiful to watch. The one big drawback, however, is that because of the nature of the story, there are scenes wholly unsuitable for children. Also, due to the fact that Perel has to speak multiple languages during the course of the movie, there are a lot of subtitles. Unless you're one of the few people conversant in both German and Russian, you'll have to spend a good portion of the movie reading the subtitles.

Thankfully, this amazing movie has been released to DVD.

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