Shlomo Perel passed away on Thursday in central Israel. He was an incredible odyssey survivor of the Holocaust who influenced his literature and an acclaimed worldwide film. He was 98.
In 1925, a few years before the Nazis took control of Germany, Perel was born to a Jewish family in Brunswick. After his father’s store was damaged and he was expelled from school, he and his family escaped to Lodz, Poland. However, he and his brother Isaac moved further east from their parents when the Nazis swept into Poland. Perel and Isaac fled to a children’s home in Belarus after landing in the Soviet Union.
Perel was once more caught between the shifting front lines of World War II when the Germans invaded in 1941; however, this time, he was taken prisoner by the German army. Perel concealed his Jewish heritage, adopted a new name, and claimed to be an ethnic German born in Russia to avoid being put to death.
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He passed and was appointed the translator for the German army unit’s POWs, including Stalin’s son. Perel returned to Germany as the war ended to join the Hitler Youth paramilitary group before enlisting in the Nazi armed forces.
Perel and Isaac, who had survived the Dachau concentration camp in southern Germany, were reunited following Germany’s fall and the concentration camp’s liberation. Before moving to what is now Israel, Perel worked as a translator for the Soviet military. He then enlisted in the 1948 conflict that led to Israel’s establishment. He relocated to a Tel Aviv suburb with his Polish-born wife and started working as a zipper maker, which helped his life return to normalcy.
“Perel remained silent for many years,” Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, said in a statement, “mainly because he felt that he was not a Holocaust story.”
But by the late 1980s, Perel could no longer keep quiet about the details of his risky attempt. His memoirs were the basis for the 1991 Oscar-nominated movie “Europa Europa.”
Perel became a public speaker as the movie captured viewers’ attention. He traveled to share with the world what he saw during the chaos of the Holocaust, in which the Nazis massacred 6 million Jews, and to consider the bitter contradictions of his identity.
“Shlomo Perel’s desire to live life to the fullest and tell his story to the world was an inspiration to all who met him and had the opportunity to work with him,” said Simmy Allen, spokesperson for Yad Vashem.
At his home in Givatayim, Israel, Perel passed away surrounded by family.