Saturday, July 21, 2007

Europa Europa - The Parameters of Identity

Any film about Jews during the Second World War is ultimately bound to be a film about that darkest period of humanity’s inhumanity in the modern world--- the Holocaust. One may argue that ‘Europa, Europa’ is not really a film about the Holocaust because the main character, Solomon Perel(or Josef Peters) did not really experience the horrors of the Holocaust, but it most certainly is. Just as cinema is a series of pictures interspersed with a series of darkness, so is the film’s narrative not just about what is being shown but is also about what is not being shown.

As we watch Solly’s life unfold, we become acutely aware that it is unfolding in front of a curtain of unspeakable horror. The uneasiness grows in us, and it’s more unsettling than dealing with the graphic horrors of the Holocaust. The feeling is like watching Vivien Leigh in the shower in ‘Psycho’ and we start to say, “Hey, we like this!”, but we say it in a tentative, tremulous voice, knowing that Norman Bates is just behind the curtain ready to hack away at a moment’s notice.

Of course, the attack did not come. But the anticipation made us watch the entire film. Horror without the blood and gore is no less horrifying. A Holocaust film without a holocaust scene is no less terrifying.

But before I delve further in the film’s narrative, I wish to deal with the film ‘Europa, Europa’ as a commodity. In other words, how the film was made to be sold.

It was a film made after an autobiography by Solomon Perel started getting attention. Of course, the “hook” was: how could a Jew fool Germans by pretending to be an Aryan. The public lapped it up and the film, like so many before it, was made to make hay out of that public curiosity. As in the case of many biopics, some details of Perel’s life was glossed over or highlighted to create narrative tension and structure. Also, there are characters in this film such as the strong-willed, independent woman (like Leni who does not tolerate being physically hurt) or a homosexual soldier which I believe wouldn’t have been included or portrayed as such if this film was made in an earlier, more conservative era. I am pointing this out to underscore the fact that a film is a not just an artistic product but also a cultural product. Our appreciation of the film must never forget the cultural context that spawned it. Furthermore, the inclusion of such characters may have a financial motive. As women and homosexuals have asserted themselves as viable and ardent consumers of commodities (including films) in the early 1990’s, therefore there must have been a conscious effort by the film-makers not to gloss over those types of characters in order for the film to appeal to those specific target demographics. Then there is also the change in the title from “Hitlerjunge Salomon” or “Hitler’s Youth Solomon” to “Europa, Europa” which I believe was also made due to a marketing strategy. The distributors wanted to avoid the name “Hitler” which could alienate potential buyers through negative association with that name, and also perhaps to ride on the rising popularity of up-and-coming enfant terrible director Lars von Trier who made a film called Europa also on the same year.

Nevertheless, Europa is an effective film for political socialization, like other more celebrated Holocaust films like ‘Schindler’s List’, ‘The Pianist’ or ‘Fateless’, perhaps more. Holland, Europa’s director, dealt with the main character not as sympathetically as one might expect from a political film. She did not highlight Perel’s virtues or subdued his faults--- she depicted him as mere human--- able to dream, to doubt, to lie and to fall flat on his face. There was a hint of irony running through the film that makes us somehow alternately disdainful and sympathetic to the travails of the main character. The character then morphs into a puppet in the Japanese (or Indonesian) theatre: we may laugh or cry at what it does but the puppetmaster does not try to hide his face in the shadows---because he is the show and not the puppet.

The most moving scene in the movie for me was when Solly saw the true plight of his fellow Jews as he traversed through the ghettoes riding in a white washed tram. Vicariously, we saw the deplorable state of Jews through a small opening in the window. The film has insulated us, has insulated Solly Perel by making us ride in the tram but the reality, we learn, is outside the window and our collective heart bleeds because we cannot do anything about it.

The scene may have no sound or music for all I care but the images have seared my soul. It may not tell us outright like any conventional political film to stop Holocaust from happening again but it has telegraphed that much more powerfully.

The unspoken speaks volumes.

- A. Abeleda

Life as a fraction of it … Set during the onset of World War II in Europe, Europa Europa (originally titled Hitlerjugen Salomon in its European release) is a period film revolving around the story of Solomon Perel, a handsome man of Jewish origins who, by the consequences of the ongoing war, came to be part of the German Army whose main purpose is to follow Hitler’s ultimate goal of liberating Europe from Jewish settlement. The film stars Marco Hofschneider who plays Solly, and Solomon Perel who played a very short but memorable part in the film as himself. It was directed by award-winning European director Agnieszka Holland (who a also directed Secret Garden in 1993) and debuted in 1990.

Solly’s story, like most of ours, are full of trials and triumphs, most of which we sometimes deal with great sensitivity. Throughout his journey, we find that his story reflects one of the most interesting facets of the self in relation to his surroundings: his notion of who he is, who are his friends, who are his enemies. As for every one of us, he has traveled through life in search of his identity. But how did he come to know who he is? I believe it is by how he was brought up, how he lived up to it, and what he has gone through that he had the power to acknowledge who he really is.
Narrating his life in diary-entry fashion, Solly relates what he has been through more closely to the audience, capturing a more intimate relation that seems to penetrate the distance between the film and the real world, which I believe effectively socializes the people watching the film. The point of view employed in the film (first person) may seem to be biased towards the protagonist; nonetheless, it is worth noting that the film is a response to Perel’s autobiography, thus justifying the subsequent scenes shown in the film. There were many notable narrations in the film that carries with it very profound significance, like when he starts the film by introducing himself as someone whose birthday falls on the same day as Hitler’s, and how he said that he unbelievably remembers the day of his circumcision.

By the thematic focus of the film, it is very evident of the political content within it. However, it is through the employment of the situation of war that the discussion on identity is successfully brought up to the consciousness of its viewers. Almost the world over have recognized the inhumane sufferings the Jews have to endure during Hitler’s reign in Nazi Germany, and his ultimate dream of Aryan world domination. Bringing a Jew’s story in the midst of this dilemma most certainly made the story an account of finding yourself from the grotesque situations of ultimate human wickedness. It is very evident in the film of the times when Solomon just wants to be who he really is, for instance, after his friend Robert and other soldiers were killed, he wanted to desert his troop, but his action backfired and was embedded more deeply into the German ideals. But the situation forced him to be drowned, to the point that he pulls his foreskin back just to fit in and avoid being mutilated, charred or triggered to death. Thus, we can say that the setting of the film greatly supports the discourse on how socialization affects an individual’s perception on who he was. Remember the scene where there were two children who were hung outside their house and Solomon was made to believe that their race was the one who killed the Germans, and now its payback time, so he fired to them and burned their home? He was confused then, how could he be so loved, but other people whom he share the same lineage, was atrociously murdered? In effect, he is asking, what will I choose? Live as who I was when I was born and circumcised, or pretend to be someone else to save my life, my future?

This brings us to the importance of socializing factors in the establishment of our identity. The Germans have built theirs, an extreme form of ethnocentrism employing ethnic cleansing by the belief of their superiority. The Jews also have built their own, based on their traditions and customs. These foundations were put together through the ways and processes that surround them, and in return internalize them so that they may appear to be just and normal. In this case, both groups were oriented in different manners, thus resulting to a cleavage that will bring about conflict. Socialization, thus, is a significant factor of building identity.

In my interpretation of the film, there are also other issues that contribute on the discourse on identity, but these do not deviate outside the context of socialization. They also strengthen the point that identity succeeds socialization. During the film viewing, I overheard someone exclaiming something about racism. It is most certainly true, and I think this is self explanatory. Someone mentioned of gender discrimination, like when the class reacted quite negatively on the scene where Robert tries to do something sexual to Solly while he was bathing. It is also true, indeed. Racism and gender discrimination are two main issues that still flood the global community up to now, but more implicitly that before. For example, homosexuals nowadays live in a world of mocking and degradation of dignity, thus experiencing socialization that impinges on their acceptance of the self, making them unproductive and oftentimes looked-down members of the society. Same goes to the issues of racial discrimination. Many people have wished they were Americans so that they do not live off a dollar a day, or wished they were tan and had blue eyes to make it to Hollywood, putting to backdrop their own cultures and ways from which they were raised.

Has the film succeeded in being an effective medium of trying to encapsulate these issues and prescribing them to the viewers? Most certainly, I should say. While watching the film, and more so after, I tried to ask the very same question that lingers throughout the film, a simple inquiry that bears a very complex response: Sino ba talaga ako? Do I really know myself? How have the things I experienced molded me into who I am now, how others think of me and how I think of my very self? Surely, some would relatively find the question easy, if not so ridiculous for anyone to ask. But really, do I know myself? How confident am I that the I that I know is really me? The actualization of the self, which can be characterized by our ability to answer these questions, is an important component of building our own identity.

Leo Tolstoy once said, “A person is like a fraction, whose numerator is what he is and the denominator is what he thinks of himself , the larger the denominator, the smaller the fraction.” In the film, Solly was engulfed by the ways of the Germans, to the point were he seemed to forgot his culture, his God, and thought of himself as a true blooded Aryan. In the process, he learned to hate, but in the end he slowly felt that hiding in the shadows does not make him more of a person, but less of it. It is hard to play someone else, but it is harder to play oneself, so says Robert. True enough, identifying your identity depends upon the acceptance of the norms by an individual, how he internalizes it, and how he processes it to be morally upright according to his beliefs. Identity, then, is not just a matter of fitting in; it is also a matter of living out. As Solomon Perel and his journey, the true measure of knowing oneself is finding what is always in your heart to be true and acceptable.

To close, let me share with you one of my most favorite scenes in the film, where, after Solly found his brother Isaak in the concentration camp, they peed together in an open foyer, with the lights on them, without any hesitation.

- M. Delas Alas


Tephanie said...

Survival dictates way of life. It has always been the rule of nature wherein the strong will live, and the weak shall perish. In cases therefore of clashing virtues and values, the individual tends to behave in such a way that his/her survival is ascertained.

Solomon Perrel is nothing but an exceptional individual in a confused land called Europe. Transcending numerous borders in the continent, the movie Europa, Europa shows how an extraordinary individual defies nature as he attempts to hide, and eventually abandon the character initially provided by his primary socializing environment, his Jewish family. He was nevertheless secured with this.

The unwarranted attack of his niche disrupted the equilibrium of Solly’s lifestyle. Soon enough, he found himself struggling within various parts in Europe as a world war was threatening to explode. The film effectively portrayed how the lead character desperately search his way to a new susceptible habitat that could provide him with a brand new equilibrium of survival. The previous niche he belonged to could no longer provide him life’s security as all individuals attached with that particular niche was being annihilated by those which are superior and dominant. As the Jews struggle for their lives, Solly was given a rare opportunity of becoming a part of the dominant species. His paper of identification symbolizes his “identity” of being a part of the “endangered species” and highlighted confusion during scenes in which he throws, burry, then picks up, keeps, hides, and eventually burns it.

Prominent class in the biota dictates temperature and climate as the Gaia theory posits.
I guess the weak merely just goes with the flow after all. Lucky for Solly he was given a chance to mimic the prominent species. It was after all the movie’s intent to let him be, to eventually portray how it is too difficult, barely unattainable to suppress one’s own identity, and worse, to play something whose main goal is to destroy our natural being. This complexity was highlighted and shown in the movie as Solly face difficulty’s on friendship and socializing, and on love. He survived the holocaust only to be slowly destroyed by the newly-found supposed to be equilibrium he’s living into.

Adaptation sure wasn’t easy, especially if something in his own body constantly reminded him of whom he really was. As Solly said, he can’t even beat his own body. This nonetheless proved that in times when survival is compromised, the individual finds a way to bargain and at least sacrifices something. In Solly’s case, it’s his Jewish identity.

However, he eventually realizes that beyond that piece of identification paper, as well as that part of his body, his identity is inculcated within him, and at the end of the day, it will triumph over the pseudo-equilibrium of survival he has found himself. The quest for a new homeostasis was over as several events enlightened Solly. Groups of emaciated, piles of lifeless Jews, as well as the taken likes of his family members in a tiny-hole view were enough to bring Solly back, back to where he truly belongs.

Living a life is not the only requirement of survival. Survival might also impose that someone should live his life the way he wanted it to. Being a part of the dominant species is not insurance, for drastic environment conditions could also weaken and eventually destroy it. That’s maybe why individuals, people, are not merely given rights to life, but rights to self-determination as well.

odessawoods said...

Europa, Europa. Agniezka Holland, 1990
Odessa Woods
“How wonderful it is to sit surrounded by your brothers.”—Solomon Perel
Agniezka Holland’s film ‘Hitlerjunge Salomon” or Europa, Europa is a story of finding one’s self. It is about the protagonist Solomon, or Solek, who was separated from his family during the Holocaust. The campaign then to free Europe of Jews led Solek to claim other identities and beliefs and hide his own in order to survive.
The story is presented using the first-person perspective. It is effective because the audience could relate more easily with the character—sympathize with him when he was confused whether to remain with the German camp and protect himself or to escape and practice his faith but possibly cost him his life.
Yes, there is racism and discrimination, which was the case and attitude during Hitler’s dictatorship, as it is what this period film is about. What is amazing is that the director did not solely portray a particular group as racists, but with individuals having his/her own faith and stand—like Solek’s compatriot who’d rather act in theater than fight Germany’s war, or in the Communist school where Religion is considered the ‘opium of the masses’, the faithful Poles, or Leni’s mother who did not judge Solek based on him being Jew. There were also many symbols used: the sun, the Star of David, the swastika which the Nazi claimed as their own, etc., the characters having their own respect or hatred with these icons, and the pressure is given to the audience how to react. On the gender discrimination issue, still it is purely based on the viewers, like how they would react to the situation of Solek’s actor friend, or how women, especially feminists, would be offended by the showing of the male organ several times, claiming the movie as a medium of male domination or to propagate machismo.
If there is any political content that I appreciated the most, it would be Solek having the right to judge and act, not necessarily what was right, but based on what he think would save him. In the first scenes of the movie, his Jewish family was celebrating the Bar Mitzvah, a ceremony to celebrate a Jewish youth’s coming of age. It was where, at least for me, the plot took off. When Bertha was murdered and he was separated from his parents and brother, Solek had to look after his own welfare. He was just a teenager then. He was faced with the responsibility of acting for his future.
I think this is the same problem that the youth today has, to be concerned of the future. Though in the movie the character had to act alone for his own self (and to serve as a model for the whole of the Jewish believers, but was not explicitly seen), the young individuals today have to act together and cooperate, not only for each one’s but for the whole world's future as well. In the movie, Solek faced the problem of coping with the people, faith and beliefs of the three groups in his environment: the German fascists, his Jewish heritage, and the Russian Communist school.
In our modern times, our group, now termed as 'Generation Y', has to encounter a bigger and more diverse group of people. With globalization and the interaction of different institutions, it is really hard to claim one single belief. Culture and socialization are the grounds on which a person builds his identity, while experience and knowledge and insight form and mold it. Today's youth then has the right to practice and eventually pass these traditions to following generations. These practices and values may either be taken as a gift to treasure and preserve over the centuries or a burden which should be reshaped beause of the growing indifference and changes in our time.
I took the privilege of using the 'I' persona here because I am part of this group. I think that is how much the movie affected me, it made me realize my part—that I am different and special, and so are the people around me. What I can do is not to compromise my self and my views or force others to change theirs, but to learn and appreciate that each has his/her own uniqueness. Most of the conflicts today are caused by this dissimilarity in opinion and religion. It is inevitable that there are differences because not all of us experienced the same upbringing or socialization, or have the same opnion, even science proves it through the structure of our DNA. As possible leaders and future bearer of lights of our planet, the youth has to learn from the fact that no two species were created the same, and so we have to learn from past examples and admit that the only thing we can do is live harmoniously through acceptance. Kumbaga sa relationship, MU, o mutual understanding, give and take lang—in economics, division of labor and specialization; in anatomy, the five senses, and in the environment, ecology. Each has his own role to play, own part to take, own responsibility to do; own chance to be and feel special, and treat others special, there is beauty in diversity. After all, man was never created equal.

mimah said...


The film, Europa Europa, is obviously a period film, depicting the time of the Holocaust. At first, I thought it would be just similar to the Holocaust film I watched during high school, showing brutal killing and torturing of the Jews. It still showed images of the Jews suffering however, the film was more than that. It centered upon Solly, a teenage boy who was caught in the midst of surviving and reviving his cultural roots. He suffers from constant guarding after himself among the ‘enemies’ of his race and continuous paranoia of anyone discovering his real identity. Thanks to his fluency in German and Russian language or he would never be better than dead. But what is the cause of all these pain and misery of Solly and the rest of the Jews? It all boils down to the arrogance or conceitedness of Germans about their racial superiority, the Aryan race in particular.

Anti-Semitism as defined in Wikipedia, “is discrimination, hostility or prejudice directed at Jews … as a religious, racial, or ethnic group.” Also, Racism in Wikipedia is defined as, “a belief or doctrine that differences in physical appearance between people (such as those upon which the concept of race is based) determine cultural or individual achievement, and usually involve the idea that one's own 'race' is superior”, which is similar to ethnocentrism. For me, anti-Semitism, racism or ethnocentrism are just forms of irrational hatred towards a certain race. Believing one is superior does not give one the authority to eradicate one’s alleged inferior race. These absurd ideologies are effectively portrayed in the film. I perfectly remember the scene when a professor was discussing how to identify a Jew among others. He said that a Jew walks like an ape, has a hooked nose, high-forehead, ears stick out and many more. Solly, at the moment, was really uneasy and nervous much more when he was called and checked by the professor. The professor said that he may not belong to the noble race but still he is an authentic Aryan. It is indeed funny because he is making a fool out of himself. Standing right before them is a true-blue Jew who just wants to survive. He tried his best to conceal his identity, blended well with his peers, tried to pull his foreskin so as to hide his circumcised penis but in the end, he has to end his love affair with Leni, and realize he can never belong to the Germans, he cannot disguise himself as a German forever. No matter how much he tried, his being Jewish, is always screaming right in front of him. Peering into the small hole from the whitewashed window, he thought of his mother and the rest of his family, who could have been one of the dead bodies. It finally dawned to him that these bodies are his own flesh and blood, that he is one of them and that it is wrong that he is well fed, cared, loved by the Germans, the people who are killing his people.

Racism as an ideology is a strong force of political socialization. Adolf Hitler, armed with his thinking that the Aryan race is the gem of the earth, was able to mobilize his fellow Germans to battle against the inferior Jews. This mobilization caused the pinnacle of inhumanity. I even heard from our church pastor that Hitler is called ‘the biggest gangster of all time’. And honestly, I really find it ridiculous that all of this mess is all because of the belief of race superiority. It is just really like who is more astig. Outrageous as it may seem but through the film and perhaps history books, we as viewers, are inclined to believe that we would never want another holocaust to happen.

Racism as we can see, does not only mean the death of millions of Jews. To Solly, racism has been the root of his confused identity. Witnessing the death of his people right before his eyes and at the same time, fighting his personal battle worsen the impacts of racism. Whether the film has altered details or not in Solomon’s biography, it does not matter. The point is racism not only cause destruction of race but also destruction of self. He finally released himself from the shackles of a life full of lies and hatred and embraced his renewed freedom along with his lost brother, Isaak. He made himself a hero by going back to where he truly belongs. At present, we are living in a world, which celebrates diversity. We still distinguish ourselves into particular races but I believe we should not get this race identification into our head. There’s more to life than being superior or inferior, we are created to fulfill a role to make our world a better place to live in. This I guess is one reason for us to learn how to live amidst our differences.

buagñin said...

If I were in the same situation as Solomon Perrell, would I be able to adopt the new system just to save my life? Would I sacrifice my own beliefs to be able to live in this world? Perhaps for the fear of death, I may as well do the same thing as Solomon. But to what extent will I believe the ideals of the opposite ideology?

These were the questions that came to my mind after watching the film. Europa, Europa, also known as Hitler Youth Solomon, is obviously a holocaust film; however, the focus on the adolescence of the main character depicts the reality that teenage years are the most critical period for identity searching. Its original title also illustrates that the focus of the film is actually the youth at the time of the German-Jewish war. Though the setting is very different from the contemporary period, the confusion that Solomon is experiencing may also be experienced by the youth nowadays. The question of identity is a mind-boggling puzzle that even now many people still are bothered to what race or community they do belong.

The film shows how the system shapes the behaviors and ideals of the youth. Notice that the film has focused the orphanage owned by the Soviets and the school run by the Germans. These two settings introduce two different opposing ideologies at that time which are communism and fascism. This film tries to show that though communism and fascism are two different ideologies, they both try to influence the youth and convert them into either a communist or a fascist. This only means that the adolescence age is a fragile one in which ideals and beliefs are easily formed. The communists educate the children in the orphanage to accept and appreciate the beauty of communism where everyone is equal and happy. The fascists, on the other hand, aggravate the hatred of the youth against the Jews. Solomon, being a Jew, is in grave danger being forced to accept the German ideology which is against his race and culture. Being in this situation, an individual may either die as a martyr or live as a preservation of his life. Solomon, indeed chooses to live not because he wholly accepts the new system but because of the hope that someday he will be seeing his family again. However, there are many instances that he actually tries to forget his past and accepts himself as a German. But he is still tied to his Jewish culture because of the mark from his circumcision.

This period of Solomon’s life perhaps is the most critical one - an adolescent who is still ripe and immature with the practicalities of life. The youth nowadays is not far from the realizations and experiences of Solomon. Though, most of the youth today have not experienced the consequences of war, Solomon and the modern youth are a lot similar, well in my own point of view. First is that today the youth are posed with different beliefs and culture from different countries caused by the rapid advancement in technology such as the internet. Like Solomon, the youth today are somehow influenced though not totally forced to adopt cultures from other countries. As a matter of fact, an individual can form different identities in the cyber world which can be the opposite of his real identity. In the film, Solomon tries to change his identity and adopted the other culture for the fear of death. But nowadays, it is easy to change one’s identity in the context of the cyber world just for the cause of having fun.

Second, though most youth today enjoy the advantage of new technologies to create one’s fictional identity, they are still bonded to a certain shared community in reality. Solomon, though forced to adopt and cooperate with the German culture, he still left with a distinct mark that makes him remember of his Jewish identity. The youth these days are still bonded to the distinct characteristic of the community in which they belong whether in history, language, culture etc. A Filipino will always be a Filipino not because of bearing its name but because of an agreement formed among the people who are bonded by a shared language, culture and history. Thus, the youth is still left with these marks of Filipino authenticity though many forces from the outside world are able to influence the Filipino culture.

Lastly, the film shows the fragility of the youth in making decisions. Solomon was actually easily persuaded by the different ideologies making him more confused as to what particular belief to pursue. This characteristic is very common to the adolescent age in that many people refer to this period as the soul searching stage. In this manner, most teen-agers are still on the state of confusions as to what their purpose in life is. Solomon, on the other hand, shows his fragility when he just easily shifts ideology for the fear of being killed. Though he actually has a strong belief in his Jewish culture, the rationality of being human gives him an urge to save his life.

Indeed, the human instinct in times of trouble is how to escape that “trouble” and save one’s life. Though many people died as martyrs, these, I think, are exceptional that they had able to develop a strong grip on their beliefs that even death cannot hold them back. But in my opinion, Solomon’s decision is much honored in that he actually able to escape the troubles of his life and still hold on to his Jewish beliefs.

I think the film has a lot more to give than just being categorized as a holocaust one. As I was watching the film, my mind was focused more on the decisions made by Solomon than on the issue about war. Solomon’s journey is like a survival of the fittest that it leads me to think to what extent does an individual can sacrifice his beliefs just to preserve his life. Surely, Solomon’s story is an inspiration to those people who are still confused about what to believe in.


Uy said...

He became one with the bathtub; but once he leaves, he will reveal himself… naked.

Solomon ‘Solly’ Perel was born from ‘Jewish’ blood, baptized with ‘Jewish’ water of beliefs, circumcised in ‘Jewish’ tradition and culture, raised in ‘Jewish’ model family and lived in ‘Jewish’ norm society. However, what makes a ‘Jew’ really ‘Jewish’? Is it determined by bloodline, by respecting and following traditional and cultural practices or by the loyalty to the societal institutions (family, politics, education, religion, etc.)?

Considering the essentialist viewpoint, identity can be seen as a collective entity wherein we are tied together through similar and common history, ancestry and set of symbolic resources. Identity is then formed from sharing similar experiences which shape a particular vision or outlook of a society. Moreover, according to the essentialist version, the search for identity is premised on the idea that there is such a ‘thing’ to be found, that identity exists as a universal and timeless core of the self which we all possess. (Barker, 2000, 166) Therefore, essentialism assumes that descriptions of ourselves reflect an underlying identity (Barker, 2000, 166). One concrete and direct example of this bonding symbol or practice of the Jew during that time is the circumcision of the penis. However, this just complicates the meaning of ‘identity’ especially in this highly modern and globalized period.

Soon, Solly stood and stepped out of the tub…

He was no more ‘one’ with the bathtub; he was no more confined within the boundaries he once lived and knew. This transition from confinement within the tub to being exposed and aware of the ‘outside’ world marks the change in the meaning of one’s identity. Yes, I do believe that identities change their meaning or essence according to time, place and usage. Opposing the essentialist standpoint, the anti-essentialism suggests that forms of identity are changeable and related to definite social and cultural conjunctures. (Barker, 2000, 167) Supporting this account, Giddens explained that self-identity is not a distinctive trait, or even a collection of traits, possessed by the individual; but, identity can be understood by the person in terms of her or his biography, background and exposure (Giddens, 1991, 53). So identity is a mode of thinking about ourselves and not a collection of traits that we possess.

Relating it to the life-journey of Salomon ‘Solly’ Perel, his ‘Jewishness’ identity has been penetrated by the different beliefs, ideas and cultures he encountered along his way. Solly spent two years in a communist orphanage (devoted to Stalinist indoctrination) and has also been acculturated to the “Germanic” superior quality and nature where he trained in an elite training school for Hitler Youth. In this case, we could see that (cultural) identity is organized around points of difference. According to Hall’s anti-essentialist position, cultural identity is not seen as a reflection of a fixed, natural, state of being but as a process of becoming (Barker, 2000, 176). There is no essence of identity to be discovered; rather, cultural identity is continually being produced within the vectors of similarity and difference. In the movie Europa Europa, the meaning of Jewishness, Germaness (superiority and domination), Russianness (communism) are subject to continual change since meaning is never finished or completed.

Again, but this time, known as Josef Peters (Solly) bathed in the tub…

Under the German control, Josef Peters (Solly), who assumed that he was alone in the room, wants to isolate himself from terror and misery; and so he becomes one again with the tub which brings back his ‘Jewish’ soul in him. At this instance, we could say that he has been infiltrated by fractured multiple identities. Besides a change in his name, from Salomon Perels to Josef Peters, he also acquired his multilingual characteristic – speaking German and Russian language. Therefore, Hall points out that there is no single identity that can act as an overarching organizing identity; rather, identities shift according to how subjects are addressed or represented (Barker, 2000, 178).

… for language ‘makes’.

Salomon Perels’ multilingual capability has translated into different identification depending on his situated environment. The meaning of identity here is portrayed by the use of language. Indeed, language can easily be connected to identity because same language could make us interact and bond with others. However, we must not mistake language as one’s identity; this is misleading. Language is not a mirror which reflects the world or ‘reality’ (in this case, identity); but a resource in ‘lending form’ to ourselves and our world out of the contingent and disorderly flow of everyday talk and practice (Shotter, 1993). Language may then be considered a ‘product’ which brings the self into being. It is a product that generates an identity consisting of multiple identifications. Giddens argues that the multiple narratives of the self are not the outcome of the shifting meanings of language alone but are also the consequences of the proliferation and diversification of social relationships, contexts and sites of interaction (Barker, 2000, 174).

Identity concerns the very way that we are formed as human subjects, that is, the kinds of people we are becoming (Barker, 2000, 178). Compared to the eighteenth century people, modern people have a much wider scope of relationships, spaces and places in which to interact. Spaces and relationships include societal institutions, such as family/friends, politics, economics, religion, mass media, education, military, and also the global resources of television, email and travel. The proliferation and diversification of contexts and sites of interaction prevent easy identification of particular subjects with a given, fixed, identity, so that the same person is able to shift across subject positions according to circumstances.

… and finally, Salomon Perels, also known as Josef Peters , could bathe and be one with the vast oceanic freedom – the living and transforming entity – identity.


Barker, Chris, Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice, London: Sage Publications, Ltd., 2000.

eva marie said...

What becomes of rational choice theory during extraordinary circumstances?

How does the element of time affect the rational decision maker?

I would not be as crazy to talk about rational choice theory in connection with “Europa Europa” if PS199 had not made me think how such a “simplistic” theory usually associated to the neat world of economic models fit into issues like environment protection. Now taking a look at “Europa Europa” with rational choice theory and the element of time seems a pleasant challenge.

The first question that I have to confront was whether utility maximization is relevant in say, situations where the matter of survival is in question. It is, if we go back to the whole idea of self-interest. Solek’s world may seem complex but in fact that choices are so fundamental. It is an instance where basic instincts of self-protection clearly surfaces. Before we could speak of other self-interests, protection of life is the foremost. Plus, I would like to think that the human brain is capable of fast calculations even, or especially, in the most critical and pressing moments. But what makes an act of saving one’s life subject to considerations like identity? One way of explaining it is that in decision making, elements of time always come into play consciously or otherwise. For Solek, being a Jew is part of a past where a comfortable zone is found and where getting benefits out of the set-up of that community will be most easy i.e. most efficient. And if the situation permits, he looks forward to taking advantage of that path. However, the future seems too uncertain and when the prospect of tomorrow looks too bleak, living for the presents seems rational.

Parenthetically, another good question comes up. Is the issue of survival an explanation of maximizing benefits or is it pure instinct in play? Or are they facets of the same thing? I guess it is best to leave that question for further pondering at the moment.

During the interrogation by the German armies, the net cost of pretending to be German over admitting to be a Jew is clearly less. But times change and circumstances are painted so that future prospects change and so variables of the formula changes. During Solek’s sheltered days at Hitler’s Youth School, his confusion sets once more; being reminded of his family once again made him think about a life beyond pretensions. For that is still the best picture he could remember and it is his interest to regain it once more. Then with the Allied force’s strategic attacks, he figured out that the risk of deserting the German side less than the risking being part of the losing side and remaining isolated to his origins.

Looking at Leni as a representative of an indoctrinated youth, I could say that convincing them is easier because they have much to gain should the promise of a great tomorrow is realized. I have always thought that the most successful mobilizations are brought about by the successful integration of personal issues to the bigger advocacy. At least I could credit Hitler for that insight although his vision is a different matter altogether.

As for the fighters, perhaps one of the reasons they get so caught with war is that once there, fighting to win is the only way to avoid a future of great inconveniences.

These are not to suggest a totally bleak picture. If doing well does not cost much, there we could see that a person need not seek to harm others. For instance, Leni’s mother will get nothing by betraying Solek because she does not share in the vision promised by Hitler. She could not even comprehend her own daughter’s line of thought. But it will feel good to lend compassion to a lost soul in the midst of a chaotic situation. One could even deduce that she is so tired with what the war had brought about that having a moment of sentimentality is a good break from the harshness of the times.

I could go on and try to see the actions of the characters as ultimate acts of self-interest. Although in here, it is best to divorce ourselves to what “self-interest” as a loaded term carries. In addition, I find that rationality changes with the times and one of the reasons for this is that the uncertainty of utility across times.

Finally, to proceed to our course’s theme, the movie made us follow Solek’s adventures so keenly that we see the logic of his choices. And somehow the viewers get the idea that it is easy to oneself especially if the kind of self-interest one is fighting for is universal e.g. life. Also, arrangements so fit in that we see the sense of say, the Western tradition of emphasizing the individual over the collective.

Lastly still, I agree with the class discussion that “Europa Europa” is an effective medium of political socialization especially in the discussion of identity – very dynamic concept in the social sciences. As for me “Europa Europa” is a great film because it much more than the storyline. And that is because it touches themes of my own interest.

asama said...

Many would say that indeed, the film “Europa Europa” is an effective tool for political socialization. But even before looking at the film as a tool to influence others, we can see that the very film itself is a depiction of how powerful political socialization is. Inside the film, we see several attempts to twist and shape the main character’s values in a way different from how he initially was raised to be.

Solomon Perel was born and raised (at least up to adolescence) a Jew. The early years of one’s life is really crucial in establishing the values which accords the kind of political socialization one has been exposed to. In the case of Solly, he was socialized as a Jew. To conform to the Jewish traditions, he had his penis circumcised, and was to celebrate his bar mitzvah if not only for the interruption of the Kristallnacht. Beliefs, language, and practices are just among the building blocks of man that he acquired from socialization.

When he was in the orphanage, an attempt to twist his beliefs came. He was trained to be a Konsomol. And yes he was receptive to the values that were being fed to the orphans. He even excelled as a Konsomol. Several key factors could have contributed to Solly’s being receptive to the communist ideology, and I think more importantly to his abandoning of his religious beliefs. It could have started as just the desire to conform or the desire to impress his pretty teacher. Then he did not notice that his everyday Konsomol habits were already making a semi-permanent mark in his identity.

When Solly was caught by the Nazi Germans, he had two choices: death or denial of real ethnicity. He chose the former. Probably he was not really socialized to die for his ethnic origin. Probably he was socialized in such a way to survive. The quest for survival is universal anyway. But to choose death over betrayal of your race is not. Being another attempt to twist his already twisted political values, Solly became as malleable as he was on the first attempt, probably even more.

But then he realized that there is this inescapable reality – his being a Jew – marked by his circumcised penis. I believe that if he was not really circumcised, he could have embraced Nazism wholehearted(/headed)ly. He excelled in the Hitler Youth school. He was seen as Nazi Germans’ hero. He got the best Nazi girl that every young Nazi man fancies. And most importantly, he had the chance to save his life. He had the best reasons to abandon his Jewish identity. As a rational human being, if he had the chance to do it, he would. Probably, he was wishing so badly that he was born a Nazi… no more life-threatening complexities if that’s the case. In the film we can see the desperate attempt of Solly to tie his penis with a string to disguise his circumcision… an attempt to erase the only remaining visible mark of his Jewishness.

But then he is a genuine Jew.

Yes he can sing the Nazi song (describing the death of a Jew in the hands of a Nazi), he can salute like a real Nazi, but years of Jewish socialization, and his Jewish birth and family cannot be erased easily by the practices that if at the very start, he could refuse doing, he would. This is marked by him hitting his girlfriend Leni when the latter said that she is going to kill a Jew when she sees one. Solly also drew the Star of David in the window of his Nazi school (but he later erased). So how about all the attempts to disguise himself as a Nazi? Were they all done in the name of survival? For a desire to belong? For a desire to forget about what he originally is? Or merely a product of his political socialization inside the Hitler Youth School? I think that not a single explanation can give the whole picture. A combination of these in varying degrees could be the best explanation. But I want to give an emphasis to the important role that his socialization in the Nazi school played in changing him. For years, he was faced with the problem of identity crisis – a clash of two sets of values that are inconsistent with each other, trying to win Solly’s heart, both having pro’s and con’s if adapted.

I remember Solly asking his ex-actor friend “Is it hard to play another person?”, and his friend answered “It is harder to play yourself”. In the case of Solly it really is harder to play himself in the sense that if he comes out of his closet, he’ll be killed. But it is just a lot easier to live each day effortlessly yourself, live each day without confusion, and live each day naturally the way that you have been socialized for years. Political socialization is a life-long process and our values are not static. Although it always seems to pose a threat to our already established values, we still have our own freewill. The mother of Leni and the Nazi soldier friend of Solly were socialized to see Jews as their enemies, but as the soldier told Solly “Not all Germans are like that”, and both promised to keep Solly’s secret.

Political socialization does not happen only after one has absorbed the values of the film he/she is watching. A film and its elements can show us (explicitly or implicitly) the process itself, which probably a lot of us just do not pay attention to. Even before we finish the film “Europa Europa” and allow it to change our lives, one or more lives inside the film have already greatly changed, and one of those is Solly’s.

mAc said...

Strife is the father of all things… being at variance it agrees with itself: there is a back-sketched connection, as in the bow and the lyre.

-Heraclitus, ca. 500 B.C.

A significant analytical tool or lens through which social conflict, (-World War II and Holocaust) that the movie puts forward, can be perceived is through the conflict viewpoint. This perspective puts emphasis on a history of struggle, factions, persecutions, and conflicts which is often entwined with economic and political factions that characterize the larger society. Going beyond the film towards its theme (which was World War II and Holocaust), because ‘his experiences in Vienna, World War One, the Münich putsch and in prison, Adolf Hitler dreamed of building a vast German Empire sprawling across Central and Eastern Europe’ (Kreis 2004). Another war, then, was essential. It was essential to Hitler the Man as well as essential to Hitler’s dream of a new Germany. Moreover, according to Marx, economic and political factions emanate from Man’s consciousness that rests on certain material conditions without which it would not exist. After becoming Chancellor, ‘Hitler's foreign policy aims accorded with the goals of Germany's traditional rulers in that the aim was to make Germany the most powerful state in all of Europe. For example, during World War I, German generals tried to conquer extensive regions in Eastern Europe’ (Kreis 2004).

Central to the conception of conflict paradigm is the theory of ideology. There are two important assumptions to this theory: one is that social classes have a propensity to see the world in a particular way. Ideas reflect their economic [materialistic] interests and also the social condition that surround them. Ideas as ideology serve the double purpose of exalting oneself but also of acting as weapons to cloak one’s interests in an ideal form and to gain deference to cloak one’s interest in an ideal [and legitimate] form and to gain deference for them. Second, Marx and Engels argue that, in political and economic struggles, different ideals become the rallying point for antagonistic clashes. Linking these assumptions, politics can be defined as a process fought in terms of a code, which always must be translated. According to Marx, social classes rarely sail under their true colors. The ideologies of the higher class always reflect their own interest, albeit in idealized form. That is because they have the capacity to control the material means of mental production: books, printing presses, newspapers, or church pulpits that announce the viewpoint of those who has the capacity to pay the bills.

Delving deep into the theme of the movie, because ‘the Jews were mainly identified with reason, equality, tolerance, freedom and individualism, they were conceived of by Hitler and his government as people who have no Kultur’ (Kreis 2004). Though perhaps German born, they were not a people of the Volk. This identification served as the reason d’etre of Hitler and his party to undertake a guiding principle they called “The Final Solution to Jewish Question” which instituted massive genocide of the Jewish people. The recognition of the ethos of liberty with the Jews served as rationale for Hitler et al to command mass killings. Possibly, Hitler et al perceived of equality, tolerance, freedom and individualism as threats to their hold of power and consequently, to their interests. Accordingly, power does not corrupt; it is the perception of losing power that corrupts. Bestowed with effective State power and instrument, Hitler efficiently executed such agenda and purpose. Imperative to this undertaking is the role of Science, in particular Anthropology, in the determination of what is or what is not the superior race. The conception of Aryan race’s superiority over other races cloaked Hitler’s et al motive; persecuting Jewish individuals. The acknowledgement of ‘fake’-Science of the superiority of the Aryan race enabled Hitler and his government to command support from the German volks. Therefore, “The Final Solution to Jewish Question” was legitimize. This massive public manipulation by fake-Science is identified as racism.

At this point in history, Solomon Perel’s life came into picture. The film Europa, Europa showcased the most distressing aspects of his life during the war. Pointing back to Heraclitus’ assertion that states “Strife is the father of all things… being at variance it agrees with itself: there is a back-sketched connection, as in the bow and the lyre.”, conflict became the theme of Solly’s life. Following a pogrom that murders his sister, Solly spends two years in a Communist orphanage, where he becomes a responsible Soviet student. Fortune then takes him to an elite training school for Hitler Youth, where again he excels. Solly’s story is driven by his never-ending fear of being identified as a Jew and his many subsequent endeavors at hiding his real identity. In the end, his conflict-occupied, disordered life was put into order by no other than conflict itself; with the Western allies defeating Germany sometime in 1944 and finally putting a closure to a horrible point in the history of man known as World War II.


Kreis, S. (2004). Hitler and World War Two. Accessed on 23 July 2007 <>.


alejandro said...

Europa Europa, a 1990 German language film directed by Agnieszka Holland, was based on the true to life story of Solomon ‘Solek’ Perel during the Holocaust. Solek was a Jew who managed to survive after the Holocaust by deceiving the Germans, Russians (and at a certain point, even his fellow Jews) of his being a member of the Aryan race. A man’s instinct, just like any other living thing, is to survive. As what was very evident in the film Europa Europa, Solek did all the possible ways he could think of to survive, amidst the fact that admitting to the Germans of his being a Jew could have ended his life. Since the film was in the context of the Holocaust, the struggle to survive was based on race – that of being a Jew or being an Aryan. Since the acclaimed superior race by the “powerful” Germans was the Aryan race, Solek made the most rational choice to survive, which was to claim that he was a German. According to Colin Hay, “rational choice theory is, in essence, what you get if you seek to model political behavior on the simplifying assumption that political actors are instrumental, self-serving [utility-maximizers]. In other words, it seeks to construct stylized (and often mathematical) models of political conduct by assuming that individuals are rational and behave as if they engage in a cost-benefit analysis of each and every choice available to them before plumping for the option most likely to [maximize] their material self-interest. They behave rationally, [maximizing] personal utility net of cost while giving little or no consideration to the consequences, for others, of their [behavior].” Indeed, Solek applied the rational choice theory even in times of utmost pressure, particularly when he was first asked whether he was a Jew or not (the scene when Solek said that he was a German, after being indecisive on whether he should keep the document of proof of his Jewish identity). Although there came a point in the film where Solek decided to inform his fellow Jews via telephone that he was not their enemy and that he was a Jew himself, he incidentally became the “hero” of the Germans for capturing and defeating the Jews after a battle scene. Because of that incident, he was sent to the prestigious Hitler Youth School where he had to continue his façade of being a German and worse, he had to conceal his Jewish identity, still as a means to survive. True to the famous line of Niccolo Machiavelli, “the end justifies the means.” Solek’s decision to conceal his Jewish identity was not based on any issue related to being “true” to himself and to others about his being Jewish; it was based on his aim to survive.

The most memorable scene for me was when Solek went to the boys’ restroom and took off the rubber band-like material he wrapped around his penis as a desperate attempt to put the removed foreskin of his penis back in place, hoping to make his penis look “un-circumcised.” As a viewer of the film, I felt the excruciating pain that Solek had to go through to continue deceiving the Germans of him being a part of the Aryan race, and more importantly, to survive. He was very willing to undergo such immeasurable pain in order for him to survive. It was a very “hopeless” scene for me as a viewer because his circumcised penis was a physical hindrance, which he obviously could not conceal, in order for him to not be identified as being a Jew, and to survive.

Based on my own understanding of the film, Europa Europa has been, thus far, the most effective medium for political socialization among the three films we have watched in Political Science 167. Although it is still early to say such statement (since the class still needs to watch 10 more films for this course), I just would like to emphasize that watching Europa Europa has broadened my appreciation for film. As what was mentioned by Prof. Fernando in class, the film was presented in a way that the viewers would not be straightforwardly provoked to hate the Germans. Although most of the Germans in the film obviously wanted to kill all Jews (I said “most” because Soldier Robert Kellerman did not want to kill Solek even though he already discovered that Solek was a Jew), the basis for their way of thinking was not just to wreak havoc on the lives of the Jews; their basis, as far as I understood the film, was to give “glory” to the Fuhrer by complying with his ideology that the Aryan race is the superior race and that the Jews had to be “eliminated.”

Hay, Colin. Political Analysis. Hampshire, England and New York: Palgrave, 2002. Chapter 1, p. 8

dominic_barnachea said...

Just like the last film, this film has plot elements that are overtly political. According to the report the film falls under the war/ anti-war genre, more specifically under the Holocaust category. Racist Nazis together with hundreds of bodies piled up in concentration camps, and other varieties which is very (stereo)typical of a film set in the backdrop of World War II. I believe we have seen other films of this kind one too many that I find them rather dull to discuss. And you would probably go by me, because since it’s overtly political, what’s there to ponder on? But, of course there is always something to ponder on.

The Penis Talks

Rather, it yells very loudly that its echoes resounded throughout the whole film, from the start to the end and every scene in between. If not directly presented in the scene I believe we all would agree that it plays a very crucial part in every scene- from the starting bath scene to throughout the whole war (and of course sexual) adventure to the “piss together” scene near the end. In fact, I believe you would all agree if I declare that it is Solly’s penis that is the main character in the film and he (who owns it) himself- to be more direct it is his penis wherein which the story revolves.

Penis and gender

Surprisingly I had a hard time relating the two words since the former is very much sexually oriented, particularly towards the male. Well, I blame it to the fact that I felt awkward watching the film with all the (male) nudity it presents. Sexually biased and green or not, if the film had been “Elizabethjunge Rose” and not Hitlerjunge Salomon with the same plot and cinematography, it would have been another story. Yet, I find it rather ingenious of the filmmakers that they were able to isolate the penis from its sexual bias and more remarkably is able to have it signify concepts which are not overtly sexual.

Penis and race

As much as I had a very hard time relating the penis, a very very sexual word, to gender issues, I find it very interesting that I was able to relate it to a much broader issue as race.
For me, in the film the penis signifies the Jewish race . In the historical backdrop of Aryans detesting the Jews, Solly’s penis and his utmost efforts to hide it symbolized the extreme efforts the Jewish people went through that period in order to conceal their identities and survive. The penis showing off at the start of the beginning before the war, then it running around and trying very hard to hide from the Germans’ eyes, it being sewed with excruciating pain and then turning black and blue with red blood all over, and finally being able to be shown off again at the end of the war- it is very much parallel to what the Jewish race lived through and suffered in the hands of the Germans.

Penis and identity

Another issue very related to race is identity. Again, the penis didn’t signify only Solly’s identity- it signified the whole Jewish identity under the treacherous hands of the German. The penis showing off freely at the beginning may signify the freedom to express the Jewish identity before the onset of the war. The penis being forced to be concealed under the scrutinizing eyes of the Germans (most especially from soldiers who are ex-actors) and the most extreme measure to totally conceal it (stitching) symbolizes the very dark and tight situation (much like the underwear and slacks Solly wears) the Jews are subjected into and the agonizing pain they suffered. And then finally, when the war was over, being able to show it off again with his brother and pee together symbolizes the freedom the Jews gained back from what seemed like a never-ending period of hiding (inside of pants and underwear).

In summary, I learned very much from the film. And I say it again, for me the penis talked. Big time.

Agpalo said...

Europa Europa is not a story of a perfecly bright, strong and courageous hero who ends up either saving the world or dying trying to save it.

Solomon Perrel is nothing of that sort. He is a naive young man. One who hates leaving his family but had to in the end and whose self-identity is not clear even to himself.

In the first part of the movie we are introduced to him as he runs and hide naked while his family was attacked. Even from there, we were made to compare Solomon to the responsible sister who was worried,and died looking for him. From there onwards, the audience were already given the problem on how to respond to the main character.
Woud they feel disappointed at him for being so lame and irresponsible or would they rather sympathize with him for being a victim?
This characteristic of the film made it interesting for though Solomon was not the perfect sword-carrying hero, the audience is intrigued. They tend not to be dissapointed at him as well. This is linked with their expectations that the main character would eventually grow up emotionally. However, we witness as he face encounters that made him succumb to fear. Eventually, we witnessed that when everything seems to be going wrong something or some one always comes out to fix things for him.

He simply is just the right man at the right place and at the right time.

The complexity of most of the situations he was into makes the audience endure and actually be interested in such a relatively lame character as he is portrayed.

As having been set on the onset of the World War Two, it's a provocative thought to have one Jew be in the center of an elite German school where his teachers adored him and his schoolmates idolized him.

In the many scenes where the possibilities of them being real are so marginal, audiences can't help but marvel at how lucky Solomon is and how far-fetched the movie seems to be.

This is where the question on whether how long a person can suistain and consider a prolonged suspension of disbelief. Would audience doubt it's degree of reality and later dismiss the movie as overly fictional? Or would they simply ignore it? Rather, would it add to how much the movie be more of an effective medium for socialization?
What draws the line between these two?
Though this movie actually used a number of this techniques of prolonging the suspencion of disbelief, would this actually mean that the audience would tend to think that the movie is overly impossible and thus would not be unable to instill any long-term effect on the audience and hence would hinder socialization?

From here we can thus examine the other elements of the film. The fact that it is based from another true story would give a certain set of expectations to the audience. They would thus already have a given bias to the film. It would then depend on how the movie communicate to the person and how the movie meets or miss the audience expectation of a true-to-life narrative fiction.

Because the film was beautifully made and the social issues were at the right formula in the sense that there is a main issue overlapping several other sub-issues and in this case are inter-related, we are able to situate Solomon in the real broader picture of the Holocaust. It was effective in making the audience sympathize with him and use the changes in the character of the persona and the situations he was into, to bother the minds of the audience as they consume the film. All the elements thus contributed to the film in the political socialization of the audience.

kat suyat said...

If there’s a movie that I can say have changed or affected my life, EUROPA EUROPA would definitely be one of it. I do not know if other people feel the same sentiments, but regardless of what they think of the movie, the film, in my opinion have been an effective portrait of the real life, of the real world that is out there. In one way or another, someone could relate and understand Solek or Solomon Perell and his experiences in life. And this “true to life” effect that the film emits, in turn, helps in making it to be an effective tool for socialization.

There are a lot of issues that have been raised or given throughout the duration of this narrative. Classified as a holocaust film, concepts such as racism, ethnocentrism, anti- Semitism, fascism, communism and many other ideologies and –isms have been pointed out and had been attempted to be discussed. However, amidst all these concepts, there is one that I would like to tackle through this short entry- a concept which I guess is enough to discuss the movie and how it brings about socialization. And that is the concept of identity salience.

Identity salience can be defined as the most important identity for the individual, and it can be influenced by such factors as permeable/impermeable group boundaries, positive or negative inter-group comparisons, identity distinctiveness issues and socialization processes (Berry, Kim, Power, Young, & Bujaki, 1989; Brewer, 1991, 2001; Tajfel & Turner, 1979). In the film Europa Europa, this problem of identity salience in seen through the lead character, Solomon Perell, and his journey in life. In certain scenes of the movie, we saw how he experienced “identity crisis” which was brought about by different factors, such as those mentioned above. I intend to discuss the three factors that influence identity salience which was studied by Katrina Korostelina in her article “Dealing With Identity Conflicts: Early Warning and Identity Management” for I find that it could be used to explain the film and why, as the title of the main entry suggests, it is the “parameters of identity”. In trying to do so, I am not saying that Solek’s identity is non- salient but rather, I am trying to point out that these factors could possibly be used to explain why he finds it hard to figure out who he really is- what his identity is.

One factor which is said to modify identity salience is existence of a majority or even the prevalence of people relating to a specific social category. In the film Europa Europa, this is evident in Solek’s case, especially during those times that he was immersed with the Russian and especially with the Germans. We saw how his “Jewishness” was shaked and put into question. There was a scene where we saw that as much as he wants to practice Jewish traditions (like praying before eating), he cannot because he had to conform in order to survive. The existence of a majority,in this case the Germans, brought about confusion to Solly and to his identity.

The second factor that affects social identity salience is threat or negative attitudes toward the in-group. This factor also contributed to the identity confusion that Solek had undergone through. When he stayed with the Germans and studied at Hitler’s School, he saw (through passing through the ghetto) the situation of his race, the Jews. He saw how bad the Germans treated his people and he saw how pitiful Jewish lives are. Again, as much as he wanted to help, he could not. And this became another reason why his identity became complicated. He lived with the people who kills his people. But in the end, this also is the same reason to why he came to a decision that he would cross the line and go back to his own “home”- this seen when he went to the Russians side during an encounter with the Germans.

Lastly, the third factor affecting social identity salience is a change in a person’s goals
and values. I find this last factor to be very important and very evident in the film. This factor is seen during the time that he fell in love with Leni. Because of his love for the German girl, he not only thought but really attempted to change his Jewish values. This is seen during the time that he tried to sew back the skin of his penis so as for it not to look like it was circumcised. We saw how this change in his values as well as goals (which was now, to make Leni fall in love with him), affected his identity- as a Jew, and lead, once again, him to more confusion.

Technically, I am saying all these to show how the concept of identity was really shown and reiterated in the film. Also, I am saying all these to describe how socialization could indeed affect one’s notion of identity and how this film, on the other hand, could affect our notion of political socialization. So how does this happen? Well, for one, because of the film, we saw how identity is so important and we saw how it could be modified or swayed. We also saw how racism, which we could say is too much identity salience, could affect lives of other people. We saw that identity is a social construct, that there is no single true identity.

Korostelina, K. (2004).
Dealing with Identity Conflict: Early Warning and Identity Mangement.
Accessed on 23 July 2007

Richard Henrick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard Henrick said...

Societal institutions and the power of choice in the conception of individual identity

We, individuals, are products of the society we live in. The various institutions that form our societies present us with various norms and values that we are supposed to accept or reject. These institutions may be our families, churches, the media, or our government. On the process of accepting and rejecting these values, we form our identities and made ourselves part of a certain group. We may find ourselves as communists as we subsume ourselves to Marx’s teachings or capitalists as we defend Adam Smith’s market theories. The society becomes dynamic for it allows this process of selection to take place. However, not at all times could we practice our right to choice in accordance to our exercising of our right to self-determination. Oftentimes, we find ourselves limited by certain societal circumstances that it traps us into a corner and forces us to make decisions that we would otherwise reject.

In the film “Europa, Europa”, we saw how the main character, Solomon Perel, had been limited in his choices by circumstances he did not choose. To begin with, he never chose to be a Jew. It was the choice of his family who wanted him to be socialized to the lifestyle that they are accustomed to. However, given that he has a circumcised penis, a symbolism of his being a Jew, he was left with no choice but to hide his real identity during the time wherein members of his race are being killed without any consideration. Being housed in a Komsomol-runned orphanage in Grodno, he was also left with no choice but to get indoctrinated with Stalin’s communist teachings. Even though he might have preferred to learn the writings from the Torah, communism was the only thing that was being thought in the orphanage. Moreover, though he would not have wanted to become a part of the German forces and learn how Hitler hates men and women from his religion, he was again left with no choice but to cooperate because it was the best option for him to survive. Indeed, institutions have their way of operating on circumstances in order for them to make the situation favourable to them as they indoctrinate to people their own norms and values.

The government’s power in shaping its nation’s identity is indeed unquestioned. Given that it has the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence; it could easily turn its nation to being an anti-Semitist by using force. Such was the case during Holocaust, when they use military power and controlled their educational institutions to inculcate to the minds of their citizens that they must hate Jews. And indeed, the Nazi government had been triumphant as they were able to extinguish millions of them in their territories.

Though the movie “Europa, Europa” was set on a period wherein the Germans are against the existence of the Jews, it was able to highlight how in such a period, coexistence among those two clashing identities is still not impossible. This was shown when Solly was not betrayed by Robert and by Leni’s mother, both Germans, when they discovered about his real identity as a Jew. This shows that despite the pressure that societal institutions impose on their citizens, the individual at the end still has the right to decide for himself. An institution may be very powerful, but it would be influential only when people have succumbed to its impositions. Moreover, it sends to us, as its viewers, the message that all of us, being humans, are just the same. We might just have been different in terms of physical characteristics and in terms of belief. However, we all stand at the end for the same goal which is the pursuit of asserting our own individual identities. In doing that, differences should not always hinder us from helping each other. For like in the case between Robert and Solly, the benefits of helping the other one who’s different from you had been mutual: Solly was able to practice his identity as Robert found a special friend in Solly.

At the end of the movie, it is undoubted that despite Solly’s numerous immersions on the German doctrine, he still retained his identity as a Jew as was inscripted to him by his circumcised penis. When interrogated by US Army soldiers, he did not hesitate to say that he was a Jew. He found home on the hands of his brother. He found happiness in being able to recite prayers and eat Kosher food again. And he was able to pursue this out of making a choice, when he surrendered himself to the US Army Unit as he was fighting them from the sides of the Germans. This only sends us the message that our true identity is rested on that place in the society where we find happiness. Asserting our own identities may face various struggles, but we could only enjoy it only if we know how to take risks at the right time as Solomon Perel did.


Felicia said...

The 1990 Holocaust film “Europa, Europa” was directed by New-Age filmmaker Agnieszka Holland. After almost twenty years, “Europa, Europa” has been typically reviewed by many to be a film that carries the theme of the loss and pursuit of one’s identity. However, as this not only inevitably sheds a depressing light on the film’s protagonist, Solomon Perel, this usual view is also uni-dimensional and pessimistic. I would like to discuss this film, however coming from another perspective. The characters of “Europa, Europa” are regarded to be rational beings acting within a certain environment, and being rational, they all seek to pursue their goals through the best way and with the least cost. I would like to present that “Europa, Europa” is all about the question of whether or not each character has been true to himself or herself, despite the fact that he or she was being pulled towards different directions in the context of an environment filled with different and confounding forces. Three of the main characters, namely, the protagonist Solomon Perel (referred to henceforth as “Solly”), Robert Kellerman and Leni, will be discussed individually as well as interdependently to support this particular perspective.

Solly was a typical Jewish-German boy (of Polish descent), living within his own cooped up adolescent world and aware of only a few things outside of it. On the eve of his bar mitzvah, he was idly taking a bath and studying his lessons when the “Kristallnacht” occurred, which killed his sister Bertha, at the onset of the Holocaust and of the Second World War. Naturally terrified and forced to think on his feet, he was indoctrinated to be a Bolshevik communist and later pretended to be a Nazi in his sheer determination to survive. From living the simple life with a loving and deeply rooted family, he was harshly uprooted like a seedling and was forced to grow up too soon to hang on to dear life. And since it was originally his dream to become an actor, using his acting skills and basic survival motivations, Solly, whether consciously or unconsciously, turned his world into one big theater show to lessen the constant fear in his heart as well as the maddening uncertainty of the times.

Secondly, on the other hand, at first glance, Robert Kellerman was a German soldier fighting for the Nazis. Perhaps because of the obligation to fulfill his nationalistic duties, not to mention the ruthless anti-homosexual prejudices during that time, Robert had been a repressed person. However, having met a relatively less tainted youth in the person of Solly, he suddenly felt like he found a confidante. Robert, who was not only a closet homosexual secretly disagreeing with the Nazi ideology, was also actually a lover of the arts, a feminine side of him which he unabashedly bared only to Solly. Motivated to liberate his secret life for once, he shared with Solly his being a peace-loving actor-poet during their times together. In other words, Solly appealed to him as more than a sexual fantasy but rather, eventually and more importantly, as a friend and a kindred spirit.

And lastly, Leni was an Italian-German young lady at the elite Hitler Youth School. Being a half-Aryan, which denotes a slightly lower status than that of a pure Aryan, she was pushed to believe and be lost in the illusion which most Aryan supremacists shared. This personal condition was also compounded to her being a woman, which denotes an even lower status and being relegated to blindly follow and never to assert nor to even think critically. In other words, these social pressures had pushed her to ride the bandwagon of hatred towards the Jews. Before she met Solly, she had always been elusive to the boys of the elite Hitler Youth School, nor was she at least approachable to them. Beautiful, graceful and desired, Leni knew that she could get any man she wants. When Solly arrived at the academy as a Nazi hero (though we all know this was unintentional), she was drawn to him. And because of her motivation to prove herself worthy of a high social status, she sought to bear a child with him for the Fuhrer. This intense attraction was because she found in him the personification of everything she so strongly believed in, regardless of whether it was moral or otherwise.

These three characters from “Europa, Europa” exhibit one of the most remarkable characteristics of the rational creature; and that characteristic is flexibility or adaptability. Its level is specific to very human individual; what may seem like the best rational course of action for one may be perceived to be an irrational option by another, since we all have different ideals, values and priorities. For Solly, his priority is mere survival, therefore, this adaptability is in its most basic, and almost Darwinist level, manifested in the form of camouflage and mimicry. In my opinion, it is irrelevant whether or not he was being a hero or a traitor to his own people, simply because martyrdom and racial loyalty did not happen to be his main concern. For Robert, on the other hand, it is finally being able to show his true colors to at least one true person, valuing his inner peace and happiness in the midst of strife and war. And for Leni, it is conforming to be accepted in the Nazi society.

Indeed, “Europa, Europa” is a film which poses great potential in political mobilization, especially since the political socialization regarding racial oppression in the historical event of the Holocaust has already been explicit in the narrative. Moreover, it is, indeed, also an empowering film in general, chronicling the phases which every human being relates to and goes through: the sometimes overwhelming internal adjustment which results from the sometimes abrupt environmental changes; and conversely, the sometimes irrational external manifestations of the oftentimes rational internal reactions. “Europa, Europa” embodies the human being’s transcendence of mere self-preservation towards the enrichment of the indomitable human spirit.

Steph said...

“Europa, Europa” is a film based of an autobiography by Solomon Perel, a Jew who cleverly—and luckily—survived several encounters of possible Nazi persecution as he engaged in chameleonic identities. The film does not only achieve its goal of adapting the autobiography; it has successfully tampered with the broad concept that timelessly plagues humanity: the struggles of achieving self-identity. Since time in memorial, humans have tried to find ways on identifying themselves—from being wandering nomads to having communities, creating boundaries and now establishing states and governments.

Interestingly, self-identity is a process that’s undergoes forms of socializations wherein the self delineates preferred versus undesired identities. The writer/director, Agnieszka Holland, zooms in on feminism and homosexuality as sub-topics to the concept of struggling with self-identity. It is doubtful, however, that this was intentionally executed to make the film more salable as a commodity (referring to Abeleda’s comments). Feminist inclinations (which refers to the more assertive type of women as compared to the submissive, male-serving females) can be seen in the plot several times, from the very beginning with --- who publicly throws herself in the arms of Solly, to the sexually proactive woman-attacker in the train to a Hitler Youth school, to Leni who asserts herself physically onto Solly but moves on to becoming pregnant with another man since Solly (unwillingly, and without a choice) pushes her away. This just comes to show that the feminist traces were not created simply for commercial purposes but that feminism as a concept was really breaking grounds. Hitler even gave women the (seemingly) esteemed, unique purpose of “giving a racially pure child to the Führer”.

Additionally, homosexuality was a very real concept that was tackled in the plot—not for film salability but for giving more light into the struggle of self-identity. The primary reaction of the during the scene in the barn where Robert tried to touch Solly was that it served as comic relief; this reaction changed into realization of the occurrence of dramatic irony since the audience knew Solly’s situation and yet he as running away from a man who was experiencing the same identity-crisis as Solly himself. Importantly, the issue of homosexuality in the film was so cleverly developed that it the audience is challenged to perceive it as a normal case of struggling with self-identity. Eventhough Solly struggled with socio-cultural and religious identity and Robert had sexuality struggles, both were crafted to be normal human beings. Moreover, amidst all the other characters that Solly encountered so far, it was the homosexual man—the one who others would condemn—that understood Solly’s situation: that even when Robert was a Nazi German, he was able to put this aside and empathize with Solly’s dilemma. It was not so much of love that Robert felt but perhaps a deep understanding and connection through what society generally brands as a social deformity.

The filmmakers did not stop at attempting to tackle struggling with self-identity through only the provided cast of characters. At the very beginning, the voice-over (who later is identified as Solek or Solly) already aligns himself with being born on the same day as Adolf Hitler. The audience is thus teased into trying to figure out whether this connection is for the purpose of immediately instructing their minds into recognizing that this is a Nazi narrative; or perhaps tinker with the thoughts on how Hitler and the featured protagonist can be alike. This latter perspective can provide background information on the politics of such an (unfortunately) important historical event. Hitler and Solek share the same life stories: both were orphaned and place in orphanages, both had dark hair and dark eyes (not the typical blonde haired, blue eyed Aryan race that even Hitler himself desired his Lebensraum to be) yet were both highly respected and accepted. Whereas Solly consciously ran away from the medical check-up in the camp since he would definitely be called unfit to serve (due to his circumcised penis), Hitler likewise was termed unfit to serve his native Austrian army. Most interesting is the fact that Hitler is charged to be a quarter Jewish; Hitler demanded for his childhood to be erased and unknown to the public—resounding Solly’s desire to pull his foreskin back so that his penis will look uncircumcised again, to erase all traces of his Jewish ancestry.

The film was a great commodity simply because the aspects of film were weaved efficiently. The lack of music allowed the audience to focus on others sounds, instead, such as the contrasting environments of silence (bathtub moments, symbolic of Solly’s serene conditions) and noisy situations (war, symbolic of turmoil). Also, the audience had to focus on visual effects, instead, to capture the real emotion of whatever was presented: the audience squinted in agony with Solly while peering through the extremely-tiny-but-gigantic-enough gap on the windowpane of the train running through the Łódź ghetto; relief was heavily sighed with Solly as peed alongside his brother in a spotlight moment where the vast outside world was darkened to connote insignificance, and the sole sound was their urination to focus on Solly’s finally being free. Even the waltz between Hitler and Stalin did not focus on the happy music—the film wanted the audience to focus on the dance itself because the Waltz is actually a dance of constant change in direction: subtly denoting the constant change of Solly’s character between the two sides. The film to reach its dramatic peaks without the need to depend on tacky, unrealistic music; in contrast, the audience was encouraged to take Solly and compare him to his surroundings (in terms of sound and image). This added to the greater theme of Solly as an individual against a backdrop of varying forces of socialization.

The unveiling of Solly’s character is unapologetically heroic yet utterly realistic. The protagonist transpires from being a lonely, fragile adolescent to a decorated hero; more important is the accomplishment of struggling with one’s identity and emerging victorious by realizing and accepting his identity. In actuality, most people go through a circular identity crisis where we find out who we are yet are plunged or become engrossed with accepting this identity; it is only the act of questioning or rebellion where one ends up struggling with one’s identity. No matter how great, at least in the eyes of those that surrounded him, Solly has become, the film still relays his very human nature through an emotional rollercoaster ride of familiar emotions. In actuality, most if not all the emotions and actions of Solly are easily understood and accepted by the audience when they are placed in the context of his situations. Solly takes on different roles from being able to deny his Jewish ancestry consciously (forcing himself to keep a straight face while lying), to at times breaking down in desperation to be with his own people (when Robert was killed), then to desperately wanting to fit in with the Aryans (in a classroom being examined as a racially pure Nazi), to being able to get rid of his Semitic origins (the ease of burning his papers without a flinch of guilt or second-thought)—all of these performed due to the varying political socialization he was encountering at that very moment.

The film took place in the mid-20th century, released at the last decade of the same century and is being critiqued right now in the 21st century: the reason why it is still widely accepted is because it has evolved from simply being a periodic movie about the Holocaust to a more mature, more widely-encompassing film that many generations can related to. The makers of the film did not have to consciously create the film so that it becomes a salable commodity; fortunately, the plot (based on a true story) already had the qualities to make it a contemporary hit—feminism and homosexuality both reached their peaks of interest in the 1990s (when the film was released) and continue to be hot topics today. And if it will be viewed decades from now, viewers will still be able to relate because it is with certainty that some form of discrimination will be taking place.

Solly had to change his identity in order to survive in the political turmoil and socially discriminating circumstances that he was fatefully thrown into. It was this constant changing of identity (in such extreme number of times and of volume) that forced Solly to criticize his own self identity. Interestingly, even the line that closes the story—“how wonderful it is to sit surrounded by your brothers”—connotes the joy of one’s self in relation to identifying with one’s brother and the socialization of being surrounded by those you love.

- TAN, Stephanie L.

vnus ambrona said...

Every film under the subgenre of Holocaust films most certainly will venture on, or at least touch upon the concepts of race and racism.Europa, Europa however is distinct from other Holocaust films in that it did not focus on the atrocities of Anti-Semitism.It viewed Holocaust from a 16-year old boy who had internal struggles about identity, survival, love, friendship,

The epistemology of race had been mistaken to be purely based on biological essentialism for quite a long time – skin and hair color, distances and appearance of facial features, stature. Many had been going further to the point of attempting to rationalize the categorization of race through DNA testing. But would this really change the way we perceive racial typologies?

The grouping of different persons into races is characterized by a set of social meanings. (Alcoff, 1997) A scene in the film which clearly indicated this is Hitler Youth class where the professor was indoctrinating the students about how to recognize a Jew. First the professor introduced the Jews to the ardent German youth in an ostensibly exaggerated, atrocious, and horrifying manner, then from such subjective claims he shifted to an objective, physiological method of phenotyping. The event that Solly had underwent a mathematical method, the next possible thing to give his well-kept secret away second to his circumcised penis, and passed it without invoking utter suspicion does not actually reveal stupidity on the part of the Germans. It only amplified that race is not just based on biological patterns, but on presumptions and expectations. In addition, race is not perfectly synonymous to culture or even to ethnicity, concepts which are more established and less contingent. Race as a category of identity is definitely socially constructed in the same way that gender is distinct from sex.

Still in line with race is the concept of identity. In the context of this film, I think it would be fallacious to say that the major conflict is the protagonist's search for his identity. Solly might have had confusions, but I don't think the main thing here is that he didn't know himself. More accurately, it was the story of a man caught between life's most challenging dilemmas at a relatively early age. One of his key struggles is the issue of whether he would abide by his need for survival or his Jewish identity. It was the struggle that took almost all of Solly's life before arriving to an enlightenment and resolution.

Solly actually was constantly conscious of his true identity, given that his penis continually reminded him of the fact. Initially his problem was whether to keep his identity or to keep his life but after choosing the latter he carried the perpetual weight conjured by his fear of being discovered, his guilt of betraying his race, his disqualification to love Leni, and his anxiety about his family.Truly, the pivotal point is when he got glimpses of the violence on his fellow Jews through the ghetto. It triggered his need to return to where he truly belongs, for what value would there be in a secured life if it is lived in lies, without inner peace, and without real freedom.

One may also theorize that it is another common case of a social entity from the lower world who attempted to rise above his limitations and escalate into the upper world. Solly's act of immersion into the German race is almost the same as the first sin believed to be ever committed by mankind – Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in attempt to be like God. It's the same thing being done by Filipinos immigrating to the greener pastures. In fact, I myself am committing it right now by commenting on the film using a language from a culture perceived to be superior. This cross-over is not necessarily about pretension, but of conceding identity to belong and survive. In my context, it is surviving our class. In Solly's, its the fight for his continued existence.

mvga said...

Even the meanest and most hopeless of lives, the most brutal and dehumanizing of circumstances, the harshest of lived inequalities is now open to the playof imagination (Arjun Appadurai)

In my opinion, this is what Salek did to rise above his circumstances.

Having been born a Jew, Salek discovered himself constrained by the environment he lives in. Being a Jew in Germany during the time of Hitler, Salek and his family faced harassments and discriminations. Therefore, they decided to move to Poland thinking that the Nazis won't get them there. Salek lived as a normal adolescent until the Germans invaded Poland. During this time, Salek was reminded of his being a Jew again and because his parents fear for Salek's life and his older brother, they decided to leave Poland. He was then taken in at a Russian orphanage only to be found by Russians when they attacked Russia. During his time with the Nazis, Salek faced a lot of difficulties and confusion especially in facing and accepting the fact that he is a Jew.

Throughout the whole movie, the issue of circumcision was dominant. Circumcision, for Salek, is what defines him as a Jew. When he was with the German soldiers and when he was in the German school, he struggled to keep his identity in secret. He adapted to his environment by doing the things the Germans commanded him to do. But when he was alone, he knew that he was different from the rest of them.

The Jews believe that circumcision signifies the covenant betwee God and Abraham-the Father of Juadaism ( Genesis 17:11). On the eight day after the birth of a male Jew, he is to be circumcised . Tradidtions provided a relatively finite set of “possible” lives (Appadurai). With this statement, we might think that because Salek was circumcised and baptised according to the Jewish tradition he will live accordingly as a Jew. But as we saw in the movie he did not. Most of the time, he denied his being a Jew. When he was in Russia he even said that “religion is opium of the masses” and he even ridiculed a co-orphan who insists that there is a God. When he was enrolled at the German school, he made sure that his classmates won't recognize that he is circumcised. But through it all, Salek was fully aware of how a Jew should act/behave. But did he really loose his Jewishness because he did not fully obey the traditions of his religion? Is being circumcised enough to be called a Jew? How about those who did not really want to become Jews but were forced to become one because they were born in a family of Jewsish descent? Where does free-will come in this situation?

Salek made his way out, alive, because he chose to live what he imagined him to be: not a Jew. But can we take it against him if he denied his beliefs? Is there a perfect way to live as a Jew? I think there is none.

jeejee said...

A period film at the onset of the years preceding 1945, based on the true story of a Jewish boy who managed to survive the Holocaust at the expense of his identity, “Europa Europa” mainly depicts the struggle of searching identity, loyalty, and finding love amidst war. Although Solly did not actually experienced the terror of the Holocaust, his close encounter with the Nazis was, I can say, the turning point of his life. During then, he began to digest what he really is. The circumstances brought him moral and internal conflict and these conflicts caused him to react in a way that is contrary to his beliefs. The question of identity in this film is not just confined to his biological character as a Jew, but the question of what he really wants as his identity. His encounter with Leni aggravated the confusion and of course, his fear for his life.

But what sets apart the film from any other Holocaust films is its idea of captivating the audience through its symbolic language and his sheer dumb luck in survival. Primarily, his knowledge of several languages also saved his life. From here, his journey as an Aryan began. The circumcised member was the symbol for his biological identity. For numerous occasions, his Jewish identity was discovered, but still, these people whom he has shared his secret, were compassionate enough not to expose him. His identity as a Jew is more of a cultural than a religious one. When he sewed his member in order for it to appear as though it was not circumcised, this act showed his great desire to be a part of the Germans. The scene wherein he was taking a bath entailed great importance for his privacy; otherwise, when somebody gets to see it, it would logically jeopardize his life. And the most liberating of all, is his peeing together with his brother out in the rain. This act showed not just the achievement of freedom and the dismissal of inhibitions but as well as the feeling of ease and comfort, among one’s brothers.

Political socialization in Europa was depicted in several occasions. First was his socialization at home with his family as a Jew, another was when he found himself in the orphanage learning the communist ideals, and ultimately when he was forced to embrace the fascist ideology. Europa as a medium of political socialization is characterized by the delineation of identity, racism, and the use of language as a determinant of one’s distinctiveness or his ability to impersonate another. The film was uncovered to the world for the purpose of not just informing people what happens in times of war but as well as to educate them what capabilities one can have and the willingness of an individual to go through such circumstances for the sake of survival.

Ron S.R. said...

Europa, Europa; The Relativity of Identity

Europa Europa was indeed a film with many themes that we can derive from it. One of which was discussed already in class—identity. Evidently, the concept of identity was one of the main themes of the movie; the whole story revolves around Solly’s, with his cunning ability to change identities, he is able to survive through the Second World War living in the midst of his enemies’ and allies alike, all the while hiding his true identity as a Jew. This story leaves us begging the question; what defines identity and when can we say that identity is true or real?

In this short article, we shall try to answer those questions within the context of the movie Europa Europa. First off, we had already discussed in class much of how Solly was able to “shape shift” his identity to most of the situations he encountered in order to survive, let us revisit those scenes and perhaps provide some insights premised on the notion of the “relativity of identity”.

But first allow me to define what I refer to as the relativity of identity, basically it’s the notion that identity depends on factors that vary depending on context; which means that one’s identity can change so long as the constructs of society’s perception of a particular identity is met under the conditions of that society. That being said let us relate this view to the film to get a more vivid definition of the relativity of identity.

When WWII broke out, the first on Hitler’s “to kill” list were the Jews, Solly was a Jew. So when the war reached their home, it was a good idea to get to somewhere safe. Thus the journey begins; with his brother Isaak, they head towards Poland only to find out that the Russians had invaded the country after Hitler broke his pact with Stalin. This was too late for Solly however since he had already crossed the river that lead towards the territory under the Russians. This is where Solly’s identity starts to change. After being taken in by the Russians in an orphanage, Solly starts to incorporate the teachings of communism which slowly alters his identity. However, let us not assert things that we think are implied in the film; hence we shall not delve into what Solly is thinking or what the scenes imply but focus on what the movie explicitly shows. So what we can see in the film is that Solly has adopted the ways of his hosts, he acts what is expected of a Komsomol. By this we can now see the change in Solly’s identity in terms of how we perceive him as an audience and how the Russians perceive his identity to be in the story. From a devout Jew, he now becomes a God-less communist. Let us now situate this to our proposed notion of a relative identity; under the circumstances of being within Russian territory, in a Russian orphanage and with communist teachings, perhaps Solly was forced or simply persuaded to adopt the identity of what his providers thought he ought to be—a loyal communist, whichever the case, we can see that the existing factors (teachings, expected roles, etc.) under the conditions of a world at war, Solly’s identity readily changed.

After leaving the orphanage and being captured by the Germans, being able to speak their language, Solly suddenly decided to be a German, let us now consider the possible explanations for Solly’s sudden change in identity. The possible factors that could have affected him without assuming too much is the situation wherein he is faced with certain death, in the interest of self-preservation, he may have decided (considering he spoke German) that it would be the best choice to pretend he was German in order to save himself. Which made him, in the eyes of the Germans, a real German based on what the Germans’ think they know about Solly. Again, the relativity of identity manifests itself in this scene of the movie. His pretention then places him in situations where he is really needed to act as German as he can be which perhaps attributed to him tying up the only defining feature that revealed his “real” identity as a Jew—his circumcised penis.

At the end of the movie, Solly again changes identity, back into what he was in the beginning of the movie—a Jew. In this scenario, Solly perhaps chose to admit to his “real” identity since it would put him in favor with his captors but this time, it was not as successful, the Russians decided that he should die since, to the Russians’ perspective, under the circumstances of him being in so deep in German territory, being a Jew was near impossible thus the Ruskies saw him as a German. Again, relative identity in that factors such as the place where Solly is and the conditions (the war being over with the Germans defeated), his claim of a Jewish identity could not hold up to the Russians view.

Relative identity does not limit itself on Solly, we can also consider Solly’s gay soldier-friend, from his comrades point of view, we assume that he is viewed as a hardcore storm trooper who would not hesitate to kill a Jew if he saw one, this identity of his was also imprinted in our perspective before we found out in the movie that he was interested in banana’s (i.e. he was gay), thus we can situate this within the paradigm of a relative identity: Without knowing he was gay, his identity to us was a Nazi storm trooper considering that he is a Wiermacht trooper in the frontlines. And he also acts as one when he is with his fellow soldiers but changes when he is with Solly.

Leni is also another example; her identity in the eyes of Solly was this (I assume) gorgeous, kind and sweet young girl but changes when challenged about her views as a Nazi German. Basically, her identity as outsiders perceive, is changing. To her own view, her identity is also what is expected of her as a Nazi German thus acts accordingly when Solly challenges her views.

To sum it up, if we are to talk of the concept of identity within this movie, we come up with various assertions and hypotheses; in this case we assert the relativity of identity both in the perceiver and the perceived. It is manifested in many scenes of Holland’s movie and if we are to be more practical about such a proposition, perhaps we can see it even within ourselves. Identity is such a fluid concept, one which we can only define in smaller sections. We may not have answered questions on identity that need answering, but perhaps another angle of viewing this concept is helpful in furthering our understanding of identity.


Felicia said...