The story of Solomon Perel is inspiring, scary and funny all at the same time.
Solomon was born into a Jewish family in Peine. He was one of 4 children. The family owned a shoe store.
In the early 1930s, as atrocities against the Jews reached a peak, the Perel family shoe store was pillaged. Solomon was expelled from school. The family decided that it was time to move out of Germany. They decided to move to Lodz in Poland where Solomon’s Aunt lived.
However, in 1935, Germany invaded Poland and once again, the Perel family was in danger. Solomon escaped from Lodz and tried to make their way to the Soviet occupied territories to the east of Poland. Solomon made it to Grodno in Belarus. He was taken in by an orphanage that was run by the youth wing of the communist party called Komsomol.
Unfortunately for young Solomon, the Nazis invaded the Soviet territories in 1941. Once again, Solomon escaped from the orphanage. However, this time he could not make it very far before he was captured by the German army.
Since Solomon grew up in Germany, he was a native speaker of German. He convinced the German army that he was a Volksdeutscher, which meant that he was ethnically a German whose family had moved to live outside of Germany. He used the name Josef Perjell. The unit accepted him as one of their own and he served the unit as their Russian-German interpreter.
Solomon was soon a liked member of the unit. He played a crucial role in the capture of Yakov Dzhugashvili, the son of Stalin. This further strengthened his position in the unit. In fact, the commander of the unit started making plans to officially adopt Solomon as his son. Solomon’s position in the unit was secure.
However, he was a circumsized Jew and therefore, he was constantly in danger of being discovered. Solomon was aware of this and tried to escape from the unit several times. He was always unsuccessful. Since he was a minor, he could not remain with the army unit indefinitely and was eventually sent to an orphange run by Hitler Youth in Braunschweig.
In Braunschweig, Solomon fell in love with Leni Latsch. However, despite his love for her, he could not tell her the truth about his identity because Leni was a member of the League of German Girls and Solomon couldn’t be sure that she would keep his secret. At one point during their courtship, Leni’s mother discovered his true identity but she did not inform on him and Solomon continued to play his role.
Towards the end of the war, in 1945, an American army unit captured Solomon but he was allowed to leave the next day. After the war, Solomon returned to Peine to try to find his family. He made inquiries at several places and managed to learn that his brother Isaak had survived the war and was living in Munich with his wife.
Solomon moved to Munich to be with his brother. He also learned that his father had died of starvation in a ghetto in Lodz while his mother was murdered in a gassing truck and his sister was shot dead while on a death march. Solomon also learned about his brother David who was in Palestine at that time. In 1948, Solomon went to Haifa to join his brother in the newly formed state of Israel.
Solomon served in the Israeli army during the war in the early days of the formation of the state. He then left the army and started his own business.
In 1985, Solomon was invited to Peine, his hometown in Germany by the Mayor of Peine for the commemoration of the destruction of the Synagogue of the town. This was the first time that Solomon returned to Germany after the war.
Solomon wrote a book called “I was Hitler Youth Solomon” which has been adapted to a movie called “Europa Europa”. Carl Slottboom, a Dutch playwright wrote a play called “Thou Shalt Live” based on Solomon’s story. Solomon visited the Netherlands to watch this play.
Klaus Schiewe [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
Memorial for the Synagogue in Peine which was destroyed