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Shlomo Perel, Holocaust survivor, film subject, dies at 98

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

Perel was born in 1925 to a Jewish family in Brunswick, Germany, just a few 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 expelled from school. But when the Nazis entered Poland, he and his brother, Isaac, left their parents and fled further east. Landed in the Soviet Union, Perel and Isaac took refuge in a children’s home in present-day Belarus.

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

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

After Germany surrendered and the concentration camps were liberated, Perel and Isaac, who survived the Dachau camp in southern Germany, were reunited. Perel became a translator for the Soviet army before immigrating to what is now Israel and joining the war that surrounded his founding in 1948. His life regained some semblance of normality by settling in a suburb of Tel Aviv with his Polish-born wife and became a zipper manufacturer.

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

But by the end of the 1980s, Perel could no longer keep silent about the story of his wild bet. 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 massacred 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 has been an inspiration to all who have met him and had the opportunity to work with him,” said Simmy Allen, Yad Vashem spokesperson.

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

ABC News

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