German carmaker Volkswagen honored a man who survived the Holocaust by pretending to be a member of the Hitler Youth and apprenticed at the company plant in Braunschweig.
Most of Perel's family was killed during the war
Tears glistened in the eyes of Solomon Perel, 81, a Jew who survived the Holocaust by joining the Hitler Youth, as a plaque was unveiled Monday in the Volkswagen plant where he trained as a toolmaker during World War II.
Perel's extraordinary escape, by adopting the name Josef Perjell and pretending to be an ethnic German from Russia, was the subject of an internationally released 1990 feature film, "Europa Europa."
Born in Peine, Germany, near the site of the Nazis' Volkswagen or "people's car" project, Perel moved with his family to Lodz, Poland in 1935 after the family shoe-shop was attacked by Nazis.
After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, he and a brother fled to Soviet-occupied Poland. He was captured in 1941 by a German army unit and talked his way into a job as an interpreter.
Fear of getting caught
As he was too young to conscript into the German army, he was sent to a Hitler Youth school in Braunschweig, near his birthplace, and granted an apprenticeship at Volkswagen, which was then making military vehicles.
The Volkswagen Beetle was Hitler's project
"In the daytime, I acted like an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth, but at night I was thinking of my parents," he said, recalling his four years as a Jew in Braunschweig. "I used to come into this building every day scared of being caught.
"If I'd known back then that I would be standing here today, a welcome guest using my real name, I would not have had to be scared," he added.
A sentry at the gate
The plaque commemorating his ordeal was made by a group of Volkswagen trainees and retirees who research the company's history.
After the war, Perel learned his father had died of starvation in the Lodz ghetto, his mother was killed in a gassing truck and his sister was shot while on a death march.
Perel, who has lived in Israel since 1948, has received Germany's main civil honor for his autobiography and lectures.
"I'm a sentry at the gate, warning people against nationalism, dictatorship and war," he said.