When Sally Perel finally decided after five long decades to tell and publish his unusual, harrowing and almost unbelievable life story, he first explained in a short prologue what scruples had kept him from doing so for so long.
Perel asked, “Did I really have the right to compare myself to the survivors of the Holocaust?” And “Did I have the right to compare myself as part of their story, to equate my memories with theirs?”
The reason for this hesitation: Salomon Perel, who was born in Peine in Lower Saxony in 1925 as the youngest son of devout Jews, survived the Holocaust as a Hitler Youth. As a boy “who had walked unmolested among the Nazis, shouting ‘Heil Hitler’ as if I had actually identified with their criminal ideology and barbaric aims.”
It seemed to me then – and it still seems to me today – that the right to life is above faith and religion.
The feelings of guilt felt by many survivors towards the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis, towards their own dead relatives, namely still being alive, were exacerbated in Perel’s case by his “survival adventure”, as he sometimes called it . But at some point his trauma could no longer be suppressed. So, when he was almost seventy, he wrote about how he escaped the Nazis in the life-threatening turmoil of that time.
Perel was born in Peine in 1925
In 1935 his parents left Peine with their four children because the living conditions had become unbearable for them. Salomon was no longer allowed to go to school, his parents’ shoe shop was destroyed, and his father was forced to do street cleaning and refuse collection.
In Lodz, Poland, the family found shelter with one of the mother’s sisters; when the Wehrmacht invaded Poland in 1939 and the rumors of a ghetto came true, the parents sent Sally and his then 29-year-old brother Isaak to eastern Poland, where they were arrested by the Nazis, who were pushing ever further east. Perel presented himself to them as “Volksdeutscher” as Josef Perjell when a soldier asked him if he was a Jew.
In a Tagesspiegel interview exactly a year ago, Perel described the answer to this question as a “dilemma” because he was thereby denying his father and his Jewish origins. “I should remain a Jew in life and never forget who I am,” his father said to him. “Thou shalt live,” on the other hand, the mother. And he knew he would be shot immediately if he had answered the question in the affirmative: “It seemed to me then – and it still seems to me today – that the right to life is above faith and religion.”
So Perel became the Hitler Youth Salomon. He first worked in Poland as a translator for the Wehrmacht and was sent back home in 1944 to the academy for youth leadership of the Hitler Youth in Braunschweig.
After the war, the Americans took him prisoner, but released him immediately. In 1948 Perel went to Palestine to help found the State of Israel. After all, Perel saw himself as a perpetrator and victim at the same time for a long time, which is one of the reasons for his long silence. Of his family, only his brothers Isaac and David survived the Holocaust.
When he had “freed” himself from his emotional pressure and his painful memories, as he calls it in his book, when the book first appeared in French in 1990 (1992 in Germany) and was filmed by Agnieszka Holland in the same year, Perel left Israel at least twice a year and went on lecture and reading tours.
May his life story and even more so the Holocaust and the crimes of the Germans never be forgotten. Sally Perel has died at his home in Tel Aviv at the age of 97.
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I have been working in the news industry for over 10 years now and I have worked for some of the biggest news websites in the world. My focus has always been on entertainment news, but I also cover a range of other topics. I am currently an author at Global happenings and I love writing about all things pop-culture related.