GIVATAYIM, ISRAEL -- For 40 years, Solomon Perel says, he was unable to speak about his extraordinary gambit to survive the Second World War -- how he disguised his Jewish identity, passed himself off as an ethnic German and joined the paramilitary ranks of the Hitler Youth. He wouldn't even discuss it with the two sons he fathered while living what passed for an ordinary Jewish life, in Israel.

Now, it seems, he can hardly stop. As his story has become a film -- the Oscar-nominated "Europa, Europa" -- and the film the subject of both critical acclaim and bitter controversy in Europe and the United States, the 66-year-old retired zipper maker has plunged with seeming relish into the gray, perilous world of double identity and moral ambiguity that was his former life.

It has been relatively easy, Perel says, to explain himself in countless interviews; to join the debate over why the film, by the Polish director Agnieszka Holland, was not nominated by the German movie industry for an Oscar (it received a separate nomination from Hollywood for Best Screenplay Adaptation); and even to revisit the places and people -- including several former comrades in the Hitler Youth -- who made up his odyssey. Easier, that is, than the years of outward normality and silence.

That is because Solomon Perel's double life, as a Jew and as a Jew-hating Nazi, is one he says he was never entirely able to give up. "To this day I have a tangle of two souls in one body," he says in Hebrew, sitting in an armchair in his middle-class apartment in this suburb of Tel Aviv. "By this I mean to say that the road to Josef, the Hitler Youth that I was for four years, was very short and easy. But the way back to the Jew in me, Shlomo, or Solly, was much harder. And it is still not finished.

"I love him," Solomon the Jew says of Solomon the Nazi, "because he saved my life."

Double Identity

The truth is much like the movie: Born in 1925 in the German town of Peine, Solomon Perel was 10 when he fled with his family to Lodz, in Poland, after his father's store was wrecked and Peine's synagogue was burned by anti-Jewish rioters.

When the war began in 1939, Solomon fled east with his brother Isaac, leaving his parents behind. Separated from Isaac, he eventually reached Grodno, in Russian-occupied eastern Poland (now in Belarus), where he spent two years in a Komsomol orphanage learning to become a loyal Stalinist. When the German army invaded Russia and occupied Grodno in 1941, he avoided execution by persuading the invaders he was Volksdeutsch, or ethnic German.

After impressing his captors by mistakenly capturing a group of Soviet soldiers to whom he tried to surrender, Perel was dispatched back to Germany and enrolled in the Hitler Youth's elite military school in Braunschweig. There he remained until 1945, disguising his true identity, and even the fact of his circumcision, from his comrades.

At the war's end, Perel was captured on the western front by American troops -- not in Berlin by the Soviets, as director Holland has it in the film -- and found brother Isaac in the Dachau concentration camp. The family's survivors -- Solomon, Isaac and a third brother, David -- all immigrated to the new Jewish state of Israel. Arriving just in time to fight in Israel's 1948 war of independence, Perel served two years in the Israeli army and worked in a metal factory for about 15 years before setting up the zipper factory with David in 1969.

Now retired, he hardly looks like a former Nazi or even a former fugitive, this gray-haired grandfather in a cardigan and corduroys who sits serenely in his third-story apartment, with its cable television and factory-made Oriental rugs. Like thousands of other postwar European immigrants to Israel, he has found a comfortable life in the suburbs with his Polish-born wife while his sons have grown up as Israelis, fighting in the army and making professional careers.

As Shlomo the Israeli, his politics are dovish; he favors negotiations between the government and the Palestine Liberation Organization and speaks sorrowfully of the "war psychosis" he sees in the country.

Still, there are times, says Perel, when his old self -- Josef Perel the Nazi, or "Jup," as he was known to his comrades in the Hitler Youth -- comes back to haunt him. Militaristic and virulently antisemitic, Jup shouts slogans inwardly at the re-identified, Zionist Jew living in Israel.

For even though he suppressed his real identity and joined the Nazi cause only as a way to survive, part of Solomon Perel ended up embracing it. "I was four years in the world of the Nazis, and it created a schizophrenic situation where I also became a Nazi," Perel says. "This same Hitler Youth, 'Jup,' still lives within me, with everything connected to that. It bothers me in daily life. I have to get rid of him, I have to exorcise him, but it doesn't work."

The inner jolt will come suddenly -- when, for example, Perel reads in an Israeli newspaper about the power of the "pro-Israel" lobby in Washington. "The 'Jup' in me says, 'See, these same methods that we learned about. The Jews don't have to be in government, it's enough that they influence the government.' "

Or Perel will see a cheap, sensational American film on television. "It's enough that I then see that the director's name is Jewish," he confesses, "and I think, 'Jews poison Western culture.' "

Perel, whose account of his wartime experiences has been published in French, Hebrew and German and will soon appear in English, says he is now writing a second book, about "the dialogue between Shlomo and Jup." "Shlomo is a Zionist, Shlomo loves his homeland, his people," he explains. "But Jup is there too.

"Jup saved Shlomo by playing it so well that he became an organic part of the Nazi world. He would yell 'Heil Hitler' willfully, not as an act. He rejoiced at their victories. He mourned their defeats. And Shlomo the Jew was forgotten. Today the characters are reversed. Today Shlomo is the dominant one. And Jup is also pushed aside. But he still exists."

These strangely mixed feelings come across in Perel's renewed relationship with Germans and Germany, an entanglement produced by the initial success and subsequent controversy over the film. "Europa, Europa," though hailed elsewhere in Europe and the United States, was panned by many German critics, and the German Export Union refused to nominate it for Best Foreign Language Film -- which meant the film could not compete in that category. Since "Europa, Europa," was released last year, Perel has accepted repeated invitations to return to the country, first to make a documentary about his life, then to revisit his hometown of Peine as a guest of honor.

Last month, at the invitation of the German magazine Stern, he returned to meet with five of his former comrades in the Hitler Youth. The point, he says, was to prove to doubtful Germans that his story was true. To Israelis who objected, Perel insisted that by meeting the fascists again as a Jew, he was realizing a kind of moral triumph.

And yet, Perel says, he couldn't help liking his old comrades. "One of them said, 'Now I know why you were always wearing your underwear in the shower,' " he says with a chuckle, recalling the efforts to hide his circumcision that are a main theme of the film. "They were also friends of mine, after all. We were 17, 18, 19, and we experienced all the good things you have at that age. Of course, there are also differences of opinion. But the relationship is ambivalent. In my eyes, they were also victims of the Nazis."

Perel was impressed too with some of what he found in the reunited Germany of the 1990s. "I was impressed first of all by the youth," he says. "The youth that I knew in Germany was extremely militaristic. Induction day was the happiest day of their lives. And what to me is completely revolutionary is that today the German youth are the opposite. They hate militarism, they hate the army. That's a very important change -- revolutionary, I'd say."

In Peine, Perel says, "the whole town turned out" to see a showing of the movie, then honored him at a local school the next day by dedicating a plaque in honor of the synagogue whose destruction drove his family out of town. Still, there was much that was troubling for Perel in the German debate over "Europa, Europa." "To this day I don't understand why {the German film industry jury} rejected the film," he says.

"All I did was to write what I experienced, what I thought, what I felt. And to make this big deal out of it is just to avoid the issue. I'm sure it's not antisemitism on the part of the {export union} jury. But it's a lack of courage to deal also with this side of the issue. Here is a Jew who's not suitable to the model they want to see. And so they simply shirk him off."

During one visit to Berlin, Perel appeared on a radio program with a German critic who, he says, argued that "it's a shame and boorish to show a film that only shows Germans yelling and murdering."

Anyway, the critic went on, "Solomon Perel, to save his skin, forgot to behave morally. He betrayed his faith." That infuriated Perel. "And so I asked her, 'What kind of morality?' " he recounts. "What should I have done standing in front of this murderer who captured me in Grodno? Should I have opened my shirt and said, 'Kill me, I'm a Jew?'

"Then maybe I would have died a moral death," Perel says now. "But I wanted to live. For me the moral thing was to live. There's nothing more holy in life. I didn't want to die as a martyr, I wanted to live as a human being. And in relation to betraying my faith, for me faith is what my mother said to me when we were separated. She said one sentence in Yiddish: 'Solly, live.' For me that was the supreme order, and that I didn't betray."

The Israeli Reaction In Israel, "Europa, Europa" has caused no such debates. Israeli editors, perhaps judging that Perel was only another of the thousands of Holocaust survivors in the country with a story to tell, initially shrugged off the autobiography he wrote, in Hebrew, to accompany the film; only after it was translated and published in France and the film caused a sensation did an Israeli publishing house agree to bring out the book.

Even then, it did not sell well, and the movie has yet to be released in Israel. Perhaps Israelis, like some of the German critics, are ambivalent about the model of Jewish survival Perel offers; he says one of his own sons, when asked on Israeli television how he felt about his father, said, "It's nothing to be particularly proud of, but it's nothing to be ashamed of, either."

Still, Perel says, he has received hundreds of letters from Israelis who have been touched by his story. "The reaction from them has been the real prize for me," he says.

Perel will make his first trip to the United States later this month when he flies with director Holland to Los Angeles for next Monday's Oscars ceremony. "Of course I would like to win the Oscar," he says. "But for me the main prize is that my story came out, and that people, young people, understand it. They identify so much with me. This, for me, is the happiest thing since the war."