SUBJECTS — World/Germany & WWII;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Human Rights; Surviving;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness.
AGE: 13+: Rated R for mature treatment of Holocaust issues;
Drama; 1991; 115 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project.
This is the true story of Solomon (Solly) Perel, a 13-year-old German-Jewish boy who was separated from his family during the period between the Hitler-Stalin pact and the partition of Poland (August, 1939) and the German invasion of Russia (June, 1941). After escaping from Germany to Russian occupied Poland, Solly was placed in a Soviet orphanage where he joined the Komsomol, the Communist youth organization. When Hitler invaded Russia, Solly was captured by the German Army. In order to avoid being sent to a concentration camp, he convinced his captors that he was an ethnic German. Solly, now fluent in Russian, was used by the German Army as an interpreter. As a reward for heroism, he was sent to an exclusive school in Germany run by the Hitler Youth organization. Placed back into the German Army at the end of the war, he surrendered to Russian troops. Solly’s older brother, Isaac, had searched for him and survived internment in a concentration camp. The brothers were reunited at the end of the war.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
1992 Golden Globe Awards: Best Foreign Film; 1991 National Board of Review Awards: Best Foreign Film; 1991 New York Film Critics Award: Best Foreign Film; 1991 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay.
Marco Hofschneider, Klaus Abramowsky, Michelle Gleizer, Renee Hofschneider, Nathalie Schmidt.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
This film shows much of the panorama of the Second World War and provides a valuable comparison of Communist and Nazi techniques of indoctrinating youth. It shows the fallacy of the Nazi theory of “Aryan supremacy.” The movie is also an excellent platform for discussions of the similarities and differences between Stalin and Hitler.
SERIOUS: This is a war movie that shows violence and death. People are shown being beaten and shot. Bloodied dead bodies are shown. The violence is moderately graphic but always appropriate to the plot. There is one scene where Solly is seduced by an older female Nazi Party functionary who has been sent to take him to the Hitler Youth school. This scene is inappropriate but shows no nudity. There are concentration camp scenes.
Point out that this is a true story. Describe some of the differences and similarities between how Hitler ruled Germany and how Stalin ruled Russia. See the Helpful Background section. Then ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question.
Joseph Stalin (1879 – 1953) was the dictator of the Soviet Union from 1924 until he died. Stalin ruled through terror imposed by the Communist Party and its ideology combined with an omnipresent and ruthless secret police. He was a mass murderer of his own people on a scale greater than Hitler, but this was not generally known until the Cold War began. For more on Stalin and totalitarianism, see Learning Guide to “The Inner Circle” and Learning Guide to “Stalin”.
During the 1930s, Stalin and Communists the world over were vigorously anti-Nazi and anti-Hitler. All this suddenly changed with the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 in which Russia and Germany agreed not to invade each other and divided Poland between them. The Russians took the eastern half of Poland and the Germans took the western half. In the movie, the scene on the river when the Poles went west toward the Germans and the Jews went east toward the Russians derives from the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939. The Communists’ sudden change of attitude toward Germany and Hitler was one of the great flip-flops of history. Of course, the Communist position toward Germany flip-flopped again after Hitler invaded Russia. This demonstrated Stalin’s personal control over the positions taken by Communists worldwide and that those positions were subservient to the national interests of Russia.
See Learning Guide to The Great Dictator for a discussion of Hitler (first comment) and a description of the term “Aryan” as misused by the Nazis (last comment).
The Komsomol was the Communist Youth organization. It was a privilege to be invited to join. The Hitler Youth was a Nazi youth organization. Both organizations served the functions that the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts fulfill in the United States but also indoctrinated children with Nazi or Communist propaganda and helped to integrate young people into the party apparatus.
Since biblical times, Jewish boys have been circumcised shortly after birth. Circumcision is viewed by Jews as a sign of their obedience to God. Circumcision is an operation in which the foreskin over the head of the penis is removed. The opening scene in the movie shows a bris, the Jewish religious ceremony of circumcision, which occurs on the eighth day after the birth of a male child. At the time of World War II, usually only Jews were circumcised. This is the background for the scene in the movie when the Armenian man sought to avoid death by pulling down his pants and showing that he was uncircumcised and therefore not Jewish.
During World War II, doctors came to believe that circumcision was medically beneficial because dirt and dead skin becomes trapped under the foreskin and causes infection. Because of this many non-Jewish children have been circumcised. Some members of the medical community have recently changed their mind and feel that the foreskin can be adequately cleaned and circumcision is now less frequently used for medical reasons.
In the discussion between the Father and Isaac concerning whether Solly and Isaac should be sent East to avoid the Germans they use the term “it is written.” This refers to the fact that the Jews have an extensive body of written rules for how a moral man is to live in the world. This has given rise to a reverence for the written word. The term “it is written” means that a great scholar or prophet has written down what the solution should be to this particular problem or that the answer lies in the Bible or some other revered text.
Hitler started a program called Lebensborn, in which German women were to donate a child to the Fuhrer. The children would be raised in special camps run by the Nazi Party and have no connection with their parents. They were to be the vanguard of the new German Master Race. Leni, the German girl that Solly thought he loved, became pregnant with a baby she had conceived for the Lebensborn program.
2. Why did Leni choose the blond blue-eyed friend of “Josef Peters” to father her baby rather than Josef?
3. Why was it important that at the end of the movie Solly and his brother could urinate side by side without hiding?
4. What is the meaning of the scene in the classroom at the school for young Nazis when Solly is singled out as an example of one of the “Aryan” prototypes?
5. Did Solly really love Leni? Can you explain his feelings for her?
6. What differences, if any, were there in the methods used by the Russians and the Germans to indoctrinate their youth?
1. What kept Solly going?
2. Why did Solly live in daily fear of discovery?
3. The young religious Polish patriot who hated Solly claimed that the Jews killed Jesus. This is an old anti-semitic slur which was used to justify pogroms and persecution of the Jews in Europe. Why is this claim spurious?
People living today cannot be blamed for actions taken in approximately 30 C.E.; it was the Roman’s who killed Jesus at the behest of a few Jews, but not of a substantial part of the Jewish population of the time.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends, and country)
1. Isaac never stopped looking for Solly. Can you share with us some examples of family loyalty?
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
BRIDGES TO READING
Historical novels dealing with the experiences of Jewish children in WWII that have been recommended for middle school and junior high school readers include: Sheltering Rebecca, by Mary Baylis-White; The Hunted, by Peter Carter; Jacobs’ Rescue: A Holocaust Story, by Malka Rucker & Michael Palperin; To Cross A Line, by Karen Ray; Anna is Still Here, by Ida Vos; Tell Them We Remember the Story of the Holocaust, by Susan D. Bacharch.
Recommended nonfiction books include: The Hidden Children by Howard Greenfeld (interviews with Jewish children hidden from the Nazis by non-Jews); Children of the Swastika: The Hitler Youth by Eileen Heyes, Young People Speak: Surviving the Holocaust in Hungary, compiled & edited by Andrew Gandler & Susan V. Meschel; Behind the Secret Window: A Memoir of a Hidden Child During WWII, by Nelly S. Toll.
This Learning Guide was last updated on December 9, 2009.