Of all the existential films I have watched thus far in this series, this one is based on actual events during World War 2 in Germany and the Soviet Union. The film is subtitled in English, which at times can be distracting, but was not distracting for me this time.
Filmed in 1990, this chronicles the life of Soloman, a German Jew who lives through the travails of World War two by posing as an Aryan man, living in a Communist camp and a Hitler youth camp and eventually finding his way back to the USSR side and finding his older brother in a death camp. Told with poignancy we learn how the decisions he must make to decry his religion and the foundations of his life affect him and his understanding of living with authenticity.
This story reminds me of the Victor Frankl work “Man’s Search for Meaning” which was written by a Jewish man who had been incarcerated at several death camps. In the film and in the book, we learn how happenstance, coincidence and choices made save the men from their untimely demises. Each pathway in both of these pieces offers a look into impossible situations, horrible decision making processes and near misses.
The key to both of these works is the existential crisis of meaning in one’s life and the choices we have to view them as learning experiences or not. In both cases, the men lose everything, save their personal “shells” or bodies and their minds. They learn how to remain strong and how to deal with things that make no sense in the real world. In Frankl’s case he wrote of a time when he had to hold a bucket of feces and urine as it slopped all over his face during a wagon drive. He could not make a face, could not complain or do anything but sit quietly, as he would have been flogged or worse. He says that living in an unusual situation requires an unusual perspective. In the film, “Jupp” who is Soloman has been circumcised, which is a Jewish tradition. He knows if anyone sees his penis, he will be caught, so he ties it with a string and watches as it becomes painfully infected. Once again, the need to deal with the situation overtakes the more comfortable alternative.
While this movie is another “holocaust” tale, it offers the viewer much more than just a web of tragic events re-enacted. This film touches at the very core of how we interact with other human beings and how we treat those that we deem are “against” us and our way of life. The crux of the issue in this film is identity at the very deepest core. Soloman is not afraid to turn from his religious leanings in order to escape persecution. Many would call him a “traitor” to his beliefs, but he is really a hero. He is heroic in that he fights with all his being to find a place in between the ravages of war and the cruelty of its influence and come to terms with life. Losing his family and eventually the one woman he loves to Nazi German influences makes him see the way the world operates is never fair. He reminds us that while we are heroic, we are also human in our desires, a very rare thing to see.