What was going on was 'Europa, Europa', an outstanding and often funny (true) story of a teen of German-Jewish extraction named Jupp who in 1939 was in the Communist Youth League in one of the Soviet-occupied Baltic territories, and ended up being captured by the Germans when they invaded the USSR in 1941. Naturally he concealed his Jewish identity and, believing him to be Volksdeutsch (a non-German of German blood, and therefore automatically a German citizen under Hitler's laws) the Wehrmacht drafted him as a soldier-translator. This begins Jupp's double life....a few months ago he was a Communist and a Jew, and now he's a German and a Nazi....just imagine this kid's confusion. The soldiers of his unit adopt him as a sort of mascot, and even when one of the soldiers discovers his secret, he does not betray him. The mutual affection between Jupp and the soldiers becomes real over time, and leads to Jupp's first crisis of identity: how can he be friends and comrades with men who believe Jews are evil, sub-human scum? Things get even more complicated when the violently anti-Semetic commander of the unit offers to adopt Jupp and send him back to Germany to join a Hitler Youth hostel. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.
Jupp finds the Hitler Youth both a dream and a nightmare. On the one hand, much of the Nazi propaganda turns out to be true -- the boys are tough, fun-loving, comradely, and loyal. They enjoy their singing, marching, and sports, and they are truly inspired by the destruction of snobbery and class privelege which was a central objective of National Socialism (Nazism). On the other hand, they sing charming songs like "sharpen your knives on the paving stone, the Jewish blood will run" and spend time in class learning to 'spot' Jews and other sub-humans through racial characteristics (Jupp is selected as a good example of Baltic Aryan blood). These kids remind you of darling young tiger cubs that will grow up into man-eaters: they are both charming and frightening.
Much of the movie is a black-comic attempt by Jupp to fit in as a loyal German youth while hiding his Jewish identity from his friends, which is tough on account of being circumcised in a society where circumcision was performed only among Jews (there are some lengths Jupp goes to to disguise this fact that will make any man watching EXTREMELY uncomfortable....I kept thinking "God, that poor kid!"). As you can imagine, when he falls for a lovely Arayan maiden, disguising this fact becomes even harder.
As the war roars towards its conclusion, Jupp is torn by the loyalty and sense of belonging he feels in the HJ/Nazi Germany and his true identity. After the defeat at Stalingrad, the mourning boys gather and sing poignantly together as brothers, and Jupp mourns with them. The fact that he is clearly not faking shows the turmoil and conflict in his young heart. Is he Jupp, the Jew, or Jupp, the Nazi?
"Europa, Europa" is different from 'Holocaust' type movies in that it injects a lot of humor into otherwise horrible situations without cheapening what happened. This is an undeniably tragic and moving film; it is also pretty damn funny. But it will also make you mad, and the really infuriating thing for the viewer is the colossal waste of it all -- the movie shows how the egalitarian ideals of National Socialism inspired, moved, and united young people, but was perverted by race hatred, anti-Semetism, and bloodlust, and ulyimately had to be destroyed at a terrible cost to everybody involved. What a stupid, criminal waste of millions of able young men, who were taught to hate people really no different than themselves. What a pity the Germans chose to forget the many Jews who served ably and courageously for their country in World War I, and bought into Hitler's insane hatred of them, a hatred which was not only stupid but hypocritical. After all, the man who in 1917 or so recommended a young Corporal Hitler for his Iron Cross First Class was a lieutnant named Hugo Gutmann....but somehow I'm willing to bet that fact never came up in any Hitler Youth class. Too bad for Jupp, and too bad for Europa.