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To survive WWII, a young man hid his Jewish identity and joined the Hitler Youth

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A Holocaust survivor with a surprising story died last week at the age of 97. Solomon Perel survived World War II by hiding his Jewish identity and joining the Hitler Youth. His story is told in the 1990 film "Europa Europa." NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv has this remembrance. And the story you're about to hear includes a description of sexual assault.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Solomon Perel didn't tell his story of survival for decades. His niece, Neomi Brakin, told NPR why.

NEOMI BRAKIN: My father told him always, nobody is going to believe you, to believe your story. Then other brother said always, I don't believe you. You are lying.

ESTRIN: Perel was 14 when the war broke out and his parents told him to flee. He was in the Soviet Union when Germany invaded.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SOLOMON PEREL: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: This is Perel speaking in Hebrew in a video testimony by Israel's Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem. He says a German soldier told him, hands up, are you Jewish? And he said, I'm German. The soldiers made him an interpreter. One day he was taking a bath when a German officer tried to rape Perel and discovered he was circumcised. He was Jewish.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PEREL: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: Instead of turning him in, the officer said, I won't hurt you. They kept each other's secret. Then Perel was put in a boarding school of the Hitler Youth, the Nazi youth movement. And he was sent to the front lines until the end of the war - the whole time, suppressing his real identity to survive.

ORIT MARGALIOT: This is a very rare story.

ESTRIN: Holocaust educator Orit Margaliot interviewed Perel for the video testimony.

MARGALIOT: We have Jews using false papers and presenting themselves as Aryans in different places throughout the time of the Holocaust. But to be in the lion's mouth, lion's den, that every moment you can be caught - and this is something he also stresses out constantly through his testimony - is a very unique position.

ESTRIN: After the war, he moved to Israel. Of his family, he and two brothers survived. He only told his story in the 1980s. It was made into a 1990 feature film, "Europa Europa."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: For Solomon Perel, war brings comfort in the strangest places.

ESTRIN: It won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay. Perel said his identity as the Nazi Youth Jupp that kept him alive always remained with him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PEREL: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: He said in the video testimony, "whenever I watched documentaries about that time and see a swastika, Jupp awakens. When I see them march, Jupp wants to march with them. I can't get rid of that ideology. The Hitler Youth lives inside of me." Perel's story was not very well known in Israel. Maybe it was hard for Israelis to embrace. His grandnephew, Amit Brakin.

AMIT BRAKIN: Going through the Holocaust as a member of the enemy's youth movement, identifying with all the songs and with the cheers and everything - I think it's a difficult thing to swallow.

ESTRIN: But Perel was well-known in Germany, where he'd lecture young German students about the dangers of being taught to hate, as he was at their age. He died last week of pneumonia at 97. At his memorial in Germany next week, his family will honor his dying wish that Beethoven's "Ode To Joy" be played in his memory. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ODE TO JOY")

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL GROUP: (Singing in German). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.