His hands shake as he holds the documents. Even though it has been 38 years since he escaped Europe, his voice still rises with emotion when he speaks of the past. Even today, at age 72, fighting Parkinson's disease he faces a possible prison term.
Dr. William R. Perl lives at 3901 Harrison St. in a quiet corner of Beltsville. But even though his doormat says "shalom" he has rarely known peace.
"I guess I've been a militant almost all my life," he said last week, his voice still thickly accented. "I always believed that it only takes a few people to accomplish something."
According to several documents Perl acquired in 1976 from the British government , he was one of the figures in the migration from Europe to Palestine of more than 20,000 Jews in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Thirty five years later as the leader of the Washington chapter of the Jewish Defense League, he was convicted on charges of conspiring to shoot out the windows of two apartments rented by Soviet diplomats. That November 1976 conviction is still being appealed.
Perl says his days of fighting are over. He and his wife, Lore, who spent 30 months in a German concentration camp, live in a comfortable home, surrounded by memorabilia, not all of it pleasant.
"I did not watch 'Holocaust' on TV," Perl said. "I just couldn't. It would have meant sleepless nights. I already know enough, more than enough. There is no need to relive such horror.
"But it is good that it was on television. my friends who were able to watch tell me it was sugar-coated, much was left out. But it had to be. No one could watch it if all was shown."
Perl and his wife both have vivid memories of wartime Europe. Perl speaks of his capers, of his captures and escapes intensely, as if they are still being debated.
They were married in 1938. By that time Perl was already heavily involved in helping Jews immigrate to Palestine. Born in Prague, he had grown up in Vienna and had been a militant Zionist since his school days.
Although it was not until 1939 that the British stopped the legal immigration of Jews into Palestine, getting a visa prior to that was extremely difficult. It was for that reason that Perl, who had been teaching in Vienna, and others, realizing what Hitler's rise to power meant, began smuggling Jews into Palestine by ship.
According to British statistics, a total of 20,024 Jews entered Palestine illegally between June 1, 1939 and the end of World War II.
"That is the total from 1939 on," Perl said, "but we sent many people there before 1939. I think in all, about 40,000 people reached Palestine safely from 1967 until the end of the war."
"The war which we fought was not just against the Nazis," Perl said. "The Nazis wanted the Jews out when they first came to power, but they didn't care how they left. Leaving the country at first wasn't that difficult, unless you were someone important.
"But finding a place to go was hard. The British did not want a Jewish majority in Palestine and even before they closed Palestine it was very hard to get a visa.
"We also fought two other problems," Perl continued. "One was apathy on the part of the Jewish establishment. They thought more would be accomplished by cooperating, by staying within the law. Second was nature. Many ships never reached Palestine."
Although slowed by Parkinson's disease, Perl has just completed a book entitled "The Four Front War." The foreward for the book will be written by Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The book focuses on the period from 1937-1940.
Perl says he is proudest of his involvement in the voyage of the Sakarya, which in 1940 successfully landed 2,400 refugees in Palestine. The memory brings a gleam to Perl's eyes and he leans forward in his chair to talk about it.
"When the Sakarya sailed (from a small Black Sea port) the British got word of it and sent a ship to intercept it," he said. "But their captain had no orders telling him where to send the ship.
"When the Sakarya was intercepted the captain could think of no place to send 2,400 Jews except Palestine. The captain of the Sakarya said he would not attempt to land in Palestin without written orders. So, he got them."
Perl laughs gleefully as he tells the story. "As the ships sailed away the passengers on the Sakarya started singing 'God Save The King.' What they meant was, God Save the King and his stupid Navy."
Perl's string of stories is virtually endless. In 1940,having been captured in several countries, knowing if he were caught again he would probably be sent to Germany, he got on a ship to the U.S., landing in Baltimore.
After Pearl Harbor he volunteered for the U.S. Army and eventually landed in Army intelligence. It was in that role, as a lieutenant that he returned to Vienna in 1945, looking for his wife, not knowing if she had died in a concentration camp or not.
Lore Perl had escaped from Ravensbruck late in 1944 when the Russians pushed into East Germany. "There was not much left of our house in Vienna but I went there anyway," she said, handing her husband a cup of tea. "I was walking home one afternoon when I saw some soldiers pull up to the house. 'More Russians,' I thought. But when I got closer I saw they were Americans. And Willi was with them."
A perfect ending for a war movie. The reunited couple returned to the United States. Perl remained in the Army until 1958 and then used his PhD to get a professorship at George Washington University.
In 1971 he formed the Washington branch of the Jewish Defense League and in that role was arrested on a number of occasions, the last in 1976 on the shooting conspiracy charge.
But his JDL activities are not the thing Perl enjoys discussing. He revels in talk of the '30s and '40s, an attitude that seems strange within the context of the events of those years.
But, he says, there is a reason. "One thing people have asked me about watching 'Holocaust' is 'Why didn't anybody do anything?' Well, we did do something and we were successful. We saved many lives. It is work that we are proud of."
With that, Perl produced one of his prize possessions, a copy of a letter sent him by Joseph C. Wedgewood, a member of the House of Commons.
In reference to the landing of the Sakarya, the letter said: "You have helped save 2,400 souls . . . I am proud to have your friendship."