Monday, May 20, 2013

Europa, Europa by Solomon Perel, published in English in 1997

 "Perel's continuing struggle with identity was indirectly reflected in the various titles of his memoirs, which have been published in French, German and ... Hebrew." from an article written by Daniel Williams in the Los Angeles Times 3/30/92
Solomon Perel, born in Germany in 1925 to a Russian-Jewish family who settled in Pleine, Germany after the Russian revolution, has a powerful story to tell about his experience masquerading as a young German, hiding in their very midst. In 1935 when he was ten, his family fled to Lodz in Poland, expecting that they would be safer there than in Hitler’s Germany. The author, a very good student, learned Polish quickly and settled into life in Poland only to be uprooted again when Hitler invaded Poland in September of 1939.

His parents, fearing for the safety of their children, urged Solomon to cross the border into the Soviet Union with his brother Isaac. The two brothers soon become separated and here begins a tale that reveals the deep determination of the author to survive. He tells his tale in order to describe the incredible stress he endured and to dramatize his responses to events that threatened his survival. He is not trying to portray himself as heroic. He is trying to plumb the depths of his psyche and explain as best he can to himself and to his readers how he could assume a German identity complete with a name and a background he invented and maintain it until the war was over. He became two separate people – Solly inside, and Jupp on the outside.

His fears were many. For example, he did not have papers identifying him as German (he told the Germans they were destroyed in a bombing), he had to keep his background story straight every time he told it, he was afraid he’d be identified as being a Jew if someone saw that he was circumcised, and he had to learn not to react “inappropriately” when being subjected to Nazi propaganda  which was a constant condition of his life.

But he was smart and he was lucky. The fact that he was alone and spoke German made it possible to pose as a non-Jewish orphaned German. He put his ability to speak Russian to good use by acting as a translator for the Germans as they interviewed wounded Russian soldiers. Because his intelligence impressed the Nazis, tthey sent him to Germany where he was enrolled in an elite Hitler Youth school where he was fed, clothed and safe. And his feigned enthusiasm also helped in his interactions with various Germans and Nazi officials.

When the war was over and he was on his own again, having inhabited the psyche for three years of a young German being groomed for an elite position in the Nazi power structure, it was difficult for him to feel free and to tell anyone that he was a Jew. When he finally felt liberated enough to live outwardly as a Jew, having seen and heard about the suffering of concentration camp survivors, it was then difficult for him to claim to be a survivor.

To see the trailer for the award-winning movie made based on Perel's memoir, click here.
To read an interview with the author in the New York Times, click here.

People
Eliahu bar Halperin – grandfather of author;
    Rebecca – daughter of Eliahu; married Azriel Perel
         Isaac Perel –son of Rebecca and Azriel;  married Mira Rabinowitz
              Naomi Perel – daughter of Isaac and Mira
        David Perel – son of Rebecca and Azriel; married Pola Rosner
              Azriel Perel – son of David and Pola
        Bertha Perel – son of Rebecca and Azriel
        Solomon Perel – son of Rebecca and Azriel; author
   Clara Wachsmann  - daughter of Eliahu

Friends and Acquaintances
Jerzyk  Rappoport
Jakob Lublinski
Hans Marburger
Binem Koppelmann
Manfred Frenkel
Lotte Friedenthal
Eliahu Beth Josef

Places
Peine, Germany
Lodz, Poland
Smorgon, Lithuania?
Stutthof  Concentration Camp, Poland
Munich, Germany
Tel Aviv, Israel

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