Solomon Perel: “I Was Hitler Youth Solomon” (Europa Europa)
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – This week’s trivia question: What were the last words of advice that Sally Perel’s parents gave him, and did he follow that advice?
(On February 2, 2023 Solomon Perel passed away at the age of 97. In 2014 we spoke with him about his experiences evading the Nazis during the Holocaust. As a tribute to him this week we are offering you this program again. May his memory be a blessing.)
When the Nazis came to power, systematic persecution of Germany’s Jewish citizens began. In 1935, the Perel family relocated to Lódz, Poland, where Solomon’s aunt lived, after their shoe store was deliberately pillaged and Perel was expelled from his school.
After the Germans invaded Poland in September, 1939, Solomon Perel and his brother Isaak attempted to escape to the Soviet-occupied part of Poland. Solomon succeeded and was placed in a Komsomol-run orphanage in Grodno while his brother made his way to Vilna in what is now Lithuania.
Perel fled from the orphanage when Germany invaded the Soviet Union and was captured by a German army unit. He told them that his name was Josef Perjell, and since he was a native German speaker, he was able to convince his captors that he was an ethnic German and was subsequently accepted into his captors’ unit as a Russian–German interpreter.
Since he was still a minor, Perel was told he could not remain with the army. Instead, he was sent to a Hitler Youth school in Braunschweig, where he continued to hide his Jewish identity, although as a circumcised Jew, he was constantly in danger of being discovered
The night of April 20, 1945, on the eve of his 20th birthday and close to the end of the war, Perel was captured by a U.S. Army unit, but released the next day. After traveling back to his birthplace, and making dozens of inquiries, he finally located his brother Isaak, who was married and living in Munich. Perel moved to Munich to be with him. He learned that his parents and sister had not survived the Holocaust, but his brother David was alive and in Palestine. In July of 1948 Solomon sailed for the newly-declared state of Israel, where he fought in the War of Independence.
Perel wrote a book about his experiences, which was published in German in 1989. “Ich war Hitlerjunge Salomon” («I was Hitler Youth Solomon”), was the inspiration for the 1990 award-winning film Europa Europa by Polish director Agnieszka Holland. In 1997 the book was translated into English with the same title as the movie.