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The Construction of European Holocaust Memory: German and Polish Cinema after 1989


Malgorzata Pakier

Is a common European Holocaust memory possible? The author approaches this question by analyzing Polish and German cinema after 1989, and the public debates on the past that have surrounded the filmic narratives. Of all media, cinema has exerted the broadest impact in the formation of collective memory regarding the Holocaust. Despite the distance in time, and especially since the fall of communism, this traumatic chapter in European history has come into ever sharper focus. Film makers have refracted evolving public awareness and in turn projected the dramas and images that inculcate mass opinion. This work examines these dynamic trends with regard to selected Polish and German feature films. The author shows how cinema opened hitherto taboo aspects to discussion. She reveals both a deep divide between the two countries, as well as significant similar trends in the memory of events.


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CHAPTER II. An Entangled European History: Holocaust Comedy. Europa, Europa (Germany-Poland-France 1990)


CHAPTER II An Entangled European History: Holocaust Comedy Europa, Europa (Germany-Poland-France 1990) The Holocaust survivor Salomon Perel’s autobiographical account (Perel 1992) provided the point of departure for an international film production, Europa, Europa (1990). The film’s genesis owed to Artur Brauner, a German-Jewish producer born in Poland, who suggested that Agnieszka Holland, a Polish film director of partly Jewish origins, make a movie based on Perel’s tale of survival during the Holocaust. As a teenager, Shlomo Perel had moved with his family from Germany to Poland in an attempt to escape the Nazis. The outbreak of the war found them in Łódź. Together with his brother, Shlomo set out for the Soviet-occupied East, while the parents stayed and subsequently perished in the ghetto. Shlomo managed to evade that fate thanks to a series of seemingly incredible fortuitous circumstances, finding refuge first in a Soviet orphanage where he donned “Young Pioneer” (junior Komsomol) attire, then in the Third Reich by passing himself off as a member of the Hitlerjugend. The story wended through entangled strands of European history dominated by the two colossal dictatorships of the 20th century, and thus fit together the experiences of both East and West European societies. This was in fact what attracted Agnieszka Holland to the tale, and convinced her to make the film: “This was interesting to me, that I could show the two totalitarianisms, Communism and Nazism. I don’t think I would have gotten involved in the story if it was only about a...

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