Shlomo Perel, who hid in German army ranks to survive Holocaust, passes away at 98

German-born survivor disguised Jewish identity, became Wehrmacht translator, moved to Israel after war; story inspired acclaimed film ‘Europa Europa’

This undated photo provided by Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial shows Shlomo Perel at his home in Givatayim, Israel. (Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial via AP)
This undated photo provided by Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial shows Shlomo Perel at his home in Givatayim, Israel. (Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial via AP)

Shlomo Perel, who survived the Holocaust through surreal subterfuge and an extraordinary odyssey that inspired his own writing and an internationally renowned film, died on Thursday in central Israel. He was 98.

Perel was born in 1925 to a Jewish family in Brunswick, Germany, just several years before the Nazis came to power. He and his family fled to Lodz, Poland, after his father’s store was destroyed and he was kicked out of school.

But when the Nazis marched into Poland, he and his brother, Isaac, left their parents and fled farther east. Landing in the Soviet Union, Perel and Isaac took refuge at a children’s home in what is now Belarus.

When the Germans invaded in 1941, Perel found himself trapped again by World War II’s shifting front lines — this time, captured by the German army. To avoid execution, Perel disguised his Jewish identity, assumed a new name and posed as an ethnic German born in Russia.

He successfully passed, becoming the German army unit’s translator for prisoners of war, including for Stalin’s son. As the war wound down, Perel returned to Germany to join the paramilitary ranks of Hitler Youth and was drafted into the Nazi armed forces.

After Germany’s surrender and the liberation of the concentration camps, Perel and Isaac, who survived the Dachau camp in southern Germany, were reunited.

Perel became a translator for the Soviet military before immigrating to what is now Israel and joining the war surrounding its creation in 1948. His life regained some semblance of normalcy as he settled down in a suburb of Tel Aviv with his Polish-born wife and became a zipper-maker.

“Perel remained silent for many years,” Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, said in a statement, “mainly because he felt that his was not a Holocaust story.”

But in the late 1980s, Perel couldn’t keep silent about the tale of his wild gambit anymore. He wrote an autobiography that later inspired the 1991 Oscar-nominated film “Europa Europa.”

As the film captivated audiences, Perel became a public speaker. He traveled to tell the world what he witnessed throughout the tumult of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis, and to reflect on the painful paradoxes 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.

Perel died surrounded by family at his home in Givatayim, Israel.

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