Solomon Perel, a German-born Israeli author and motivational speaker who visited many schools to share his experience as a Jewish member of the Hitler Youth movement that helped him survive the Holocaust, died in his home in Israel at the age of 97, his family announced last Thursday.
His life story is told in the 1990 film “Europa Europa,” directed by Agnieszka Holland, which was loosely based on his autobiography “Ich war Hitlerjunge Salomon” (I Was Hitler Youth Salomon).
Perel was born in 1925 to a German-Jewish family that emigrated to Lower Saxony, Germany, from Russia. In 1935, after the Nazis came to power, the Perel family relocated to Łódź, Poland, after their shoe store had been looted and Perel had been expelled from his school. After the Germans invaded Poland in September 1939, Solomon and his brother Yitzhak escaped to the Soviet-occupied part of Poland. Solomon was placed in a Komsomol-run orphanage in Grodno, and his brother relocated to Vilna, Lithuania.
After the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Solomon was captured by a Wehrmacht armored corps unit. A native German speaker, Perel convinced his captors he was a Volksdeutscher (ethnic German living outside Germany) and was used as a Russian–German interpreter.
Perel was eventually told he was too young to remain with the army and was sent to a Hitler Youth boarding school in Braunschweig, where he represented himself as Josef Perjell. He studied Nazi race theory and participated in pre-military exercises. He used many different tricks to shower alone, to hide the fact that he was circumcised. He even managed to hide it from his German girlfriend who was a member of the Nazi League of German Girls.
In April 1945, after the Allies victory over Nazi Germany, Perel located his brother in Munich and learned that their father had died of starvation in the Łódź ghetto, his mother was murdered in a gassing truck in 1944, and his sister was shot during the death march. He learned that his other brother, David, was alive and living in Mandatory Palestine. In July 1948, Solomon Perel arrived in Haifa, in the new State of Israel.