Solomon Perel, a Holocaust survivor who is known for the fact that he pretended to be a member of the Nazi party in order to survive the war, passed away on Thursday at the age of 97.
Perel was a public speaker who told his story in a myriad of different places, and was an active Holocaust educator.
Although he himself was born in the German town of Piene, Lower Saxony, Perel's family were Russian Jewish immigrants.
Wartime experience and legacy
When the Nazis came to power and Perel was about 10 years old, he moved along with his family to Lodz, Poland. Once the Nazis invaded Poland, when Perel was 14, he ran away with his brother Yitzchak to the Soviet-occupied area of the country and was placed in an orphanage.
When the Germans took over the entirety of Poland, Perel again ran away but was captured by a German military unit. By virtue of his fluency in German, he was able to convince the soldiers that his real name was Josef Freil and that he was a German citizen living abroad. At this time Perel was 16 years old and was thus conscripted into the German army. He served as a Russian-German interpreter in the military and even took part in the interrogation of Joseph Stalin's son who was a Red Army commander.
As the war barreled toward its end, he was captured along with his comrades by United States troops, but because he was a junior-level recruit and still quite young (19 or 20 years old), he was released and not detained as a prisoner of war.
Perel returned to his Jewish identity after the war and discovered that his brother David already lived in Israel. Perel followed him there in July 1948, enlisted in the IDF and fought on the Jerusalem front in the War of Independence.
He married his partner Deborah in 1959, and they had two sons together.
Many years later, Perel recorded his story in his autobiography, Ich war Hitlerjunge Salomon (I Was Hitler Youth Salomon). His story was turned into a film in 1990 entitled Europa Europa, and it won the 1991 Golden Globe award for best foreign language film. It was also nominated for an Oscar.