Group portrait of Germans on a field trip to a cavern in the Harz mountains.
June 1943 - August 1943
- Photo Designation
RESCUERS & RESCUED -- Germany
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Shlomo (Solly) Perel
Group portrait of Germans on a field trip to a cavern in the Harz mountains.
Among those pictured is Solly Perel (middle, marked by arrow), a Jew living in hiding as a member of the Hitler Youth. The field trip was hosted by a German SS officer who worked at the Hitler Youth school in Braunschweig.
- Solly (now Solomon or Shlomo) Perel is the son of Azriel and Rebecca Perel. He was born April 21, 1925 in Peine (near Braunschweig), Germany, where his parents owned a shoe store. His parents had moved to Germany from Russia in 1918. Solly had three older siblings: Isaac (b. ca. 1902), David (b. ca. 1906), and Bertha (b. ca. 1909). In 1935 after the enactment of the Nuremberg laws, Solly was expelled from school. Shortly thereafter he moved with his parents to Lodz, Poland, where they stayed with his mother's younger sister, Clara Wachsmann. Solly finished elementary school in 1939 just months ahead of the German invasion of Poland. In the spring of 1940 Solly's parents decided that they were too old to resist the ghettoization order, but urged Isaac to flee to the east with Solly. David, who had been in the Polish army, had been captured. Isaac and Solly took a train to within sixty miles of the Bug River and then proceeded on foot to the border. When they arrived at the river, they encountered a throng of refugees desperate to board a small boat that would take them across the border. Solly managed to squeeze on board, but Isaac had to wait for the next boat. In the middle of the river, the boat began to take on water and sink. Solly nearly drowned, but a Russian sentry spotted him and pulled him to safety. After the brothers met up again, they proceeded on to a refugee center in Bialystok. It was agreed that Solly would stay in a Soviet orphanage in Grodno while Isaac would continue on to Vilna to find his fiancée, Mira Rabinowitz. For some time, Shlomo was able to maintain postal contact with his parents, and once he was pleasantly surprised when his sister Bertha paid him a visit. After a brief reunion she continued on to Lithuania to join Isaac and Mira, who had since married. Shortly before dawn on June 22, 1941, a Jewish teacher in the school entered the dormitory and ordered all the Jewish children to dress and pack their belongings. The Germans had launched a surprise invasion of the Soviet Union, and he hoped to remove the Jewish children to the Soviet interior. In the chaos which ensued, the children became separated from one another, and Solly was captured with a large group of refugees on their way to Minsk. The German officer in charge ordered that all the civilians stand in a line and pass a selection. Jews and Communists were taken out and murdered by Einsatzgruppen units. Solly stood at the end of the line and during the long wait, destroyed anything identifying him as either a Jew or a member of the Komsomol. When his turn came to be questioned, Solly claimed he was an ethnic German named Josef Perjell who had lost all of his identification papers in the bombings. Solly looked much younger than his sixteen years, and the officer believed him and invited him to join his unit. Solly thus became an unofficial member of 12th Panzer Division. Solly, who spoke both fluent Russian and German, worked as an interpreter, and as the youngest member of the company was treated as a mascot and a good luck talisman. The other soldiers gave him the nickname Jupp that stuck with him for the remainder of the war. Several months later, the commanding officer, Captain Joachim von Muenchow, informed him that he and his wife planned to officially adopt him as their own son. Only one other soldier guessed Solly's true identity after observing him bathe. Heinz Kelzenberg promised not to betray Solly's secret. Shortly thereafter, Heinz was killed in action. After the German defeat at Leningrad, Solly's unit was transferred to Estonia. Von Muenchow told Solly he had to send him to Germany because he was a minor. Solly was issued a letter saying that his German identification papers had been destroyed in a Russian artillery attack and another attesting to his good conduct and bravery on the front. In 1942 Solly left the 12th Panzer Division and took a train to Berlin escorted by a female Nazi official. Solly was given VIP treatment because von Muenchow's niece was married to Baldur von Schirach, head of the Hitler Youth. From Berlin, Solly was sent to an elite Hitler Youth school in Braunschweig in Lower Saxony, only twelve miles from his hometown of Peine. He remained there for the rest of the war taking classes in Nazi ideology, helping teach younger children and working at the Volkswagen plant on the premises. His reading assignments included excerpts from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. During a class on racial science, the teacher singled out Solly as a model of a typical eastern Baltic, ethnic German. Solly became a model student, and the Waffen SS officer in charge of his school was named his official legal guardian. Solly even dated a member of the BDM, Leni Latsch. Once, he visited her when she was not at home. Her mother invited him in and then asked him whether he was really a German. Taken aback by the question and feeling the need to unload his burden, Solly confessed he was Jewish. Mrs. Latsch was very sympathetic and promised to keep the secret but warned him not to tell Leni since she would not understand. During the Christmas vacation of 1943, Solly was overcome with loneliness when all his classmates were going home to see their parents. He desperately wanted to see his as well, so he requested leave to go to Lodz. He later found out that this had aroused suspicions, but he was given permission. Since ethnic Germans were being resettled in Litzmannstadt, his request, though odd, seemed understandable. In Lodz he repeatedly took the trolley back and forth through the ghetto looking for his parents, but to no avail. The first half of 1944 passed uneventfully, but in July he was summoned to police headquarters and ordered to write to Grodno for an official registry of his Aryan ancestry. This could have led to Solly's unmasking, but by chance, shortly after the request was made, the police station was destroyed in an Allied bombing raid. On Solly's 20th birthday, April 21, 1945, American forces captured his Hitler Youth unit, and Solly was ordered to remove all Nazi insignia from his uniform. Solly now set out to regain his Jewish identity and search for any surviving family members. He learned that his brother Isaac and sister-in-law Mira had survived, and he joined them in the Neu Freimann displaced persons camp. They had survived the Vilna ghetto and deportation to a concentration camp. Solly then learned the fate of the rest of his family. Bertha was sent along with Mira to Stutthof but perished during a death march from the camp. His mother was deported from Lodz to Chelmno, where she was killed. His father died of starvation in the Lodz ghetto and was buried by his brother David. David and his wife Pola were among the last Jews to be deported from Lodz. They survived and moved to Palestine immediately after the war. Solly immigrated to Israel in July 1948 and immediately was inducted into the Israeli army.
[Source: Perel, Solomon. "Europa, Europa." John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY, 1997.]
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Shlomo (Solly) Perel
Record last modified: 2005-01-27 00:00:00
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