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William R. Perl papers

Identifier: MS2026

Collection Scope and Content

The William R. Perl Papers document the education, professional career and social activism of William R. Perl (1906-1998). The collection is stored in 10 manuscript boxes, 1 audio cassette box and 1 oversized box. A large portion of the collection consists of undated photocopies and photostats of original documents. The Papers are arranged into eight series: Biographical Files, Jewish Activism Files, Military Service Files, Professional Files, Legal Files, Miscellaneous Writings, Miscellaneous Correspondence, and Mixed Media. In terms of physical extent, the largest series are the Jewish Activism Files and the Military Service Files.

Earliest records in this collection relate to William R. Perl's high school and university education (1920s). Obituaries of Perl (1998) are the most recent documents. However, the bulk of the William R. Perl Papers date from the 1940s (after Perl emigrated to the United States), through the 1980s (when Perl received increased recognition for his work during the Holocaust). Early papers (and papers relating to the earlier part of Perl's life) are often written in German, while most papers dating after 1941 are in English.

Of particular interest to researchers are correspondence, copies of official documents, artifacts and other materials relating to Perl's involvement in transporting European Jewish refugees to Palestine. These papers are filed in the Rescue of European Jews Files sub-series of the Jewish Activism Series. To understand the context of the items, researchers are strongly urged to read Reuven Schlenker and Charles Goolsby's manuscript The World of Willi Perl, Perl's own books The Four Front War and Operation Action, clippings in the various Newsclippings sub-series of the Perl Papers, and other biographical treatments of Perl. Such secondary readings will help the researcher fill intellectual gaps and determine the basic facts of events prior to using original materials in the rest of the collection.

Also of note are affidavits and photographs of German soldiers who participated in the "massacre" of American soldiers in Malmedy, Belgium in 1944. Though many of the affidavits are incomplete photocopies of originals and their authors could not always be identified by the Manuscripts Librarian, some affidavits are original documents which may not have been accessible to the public until now. Most of the affidavits are handwritten in old German script (making them difficult to read) but for some documents a typewritten English translation is available. Whenever possible, the Manuscripts Librarian has identified the author and date of affidavits and listed such information in the Container List of this finding aid.

There are several notable gaps in the coverage of the William R. Perl Papers. There is little documentation of Perl's life prior to his emigration to the United States, though a major exception are documents relating to Perl's rescue of European Jews. The Perl Papers also contain little documentation of Perl's career as a psychologist (ca. 1950-1968) other than newsclippings and Perl's own writings and public speeches. Other than one folder of correspondence and some flyers and photographs, there is little evidence (meeting minutes or notes) about the Jewish Defense League, of which Perl was President. Most of the Correspondence files in the collection contain only one letter to or from a given correspondent, and many folders relating to Perl's public speeches and honors only contain a program, letter or other ephemeral item. Lastly, the Papers contain very little information about Perl's wife, Lore (Rollig) Perl, their children, or other members of the Perl family. Again, researchers are encouraged to consult secondary sources and other repositories for further information about the life and times of William R. Perl.

The National Archives and Records Administration (Washington, D.C.), the Simon Wiesenthal Center (Los Angeles), and the Public Records Office (Kew, Surrey, England) are three known repositories that have documentation relating to Perl's activities (copies of documents from these repositories can be found in the Perl Papers). The National Archives has documentation of War Crimes trials at Dachau, contained in Record Group 111 (United States Department of Defense, United States Army), Record Group 331 (Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, Judge Advocate Section, War Crimes Division) and other record groups. To date, the Manuscripts Librarian could not find information about relevant archival holdings at the Wiesenthal Center or the Public Records Office. Upon their arrival to the Special Collections Department, the William R. Perl Papers were largely unarranged (though some documents were grouped by topic), and the provenance of some documents was uncertain or difficult to establish. In order to make the Perl Papers more usable to researchers, the Manuscripts Librarian identified different aspects of Perl's career (e.g., Jewish Activism, Military Service, etc.). as series for the Papers. Thereunder, items documenting similar kinds of activities (writings, speeches, correspondence, etc.), were grouped together, and thereunder, most documents were arranged in chronological order. One exception to chronological arrangement are Correspondence sub-series, which are arranged alphabetically by last name of correspondent.

Out of concerns for preservation, photographs, audio recordings and oversized materials were organized as a separate, "Mixed Media" series, and grouped together by media. As a preservation measure, most original newsclippings have been photocopied onto acid-free paper. Photographs have been placed in mylar sleeves to protect them from handling.

Several books were donated with the William R. Perl Papers:

Merlin, Samuel. Jabotinsky Returns to the Land of Israel. Tel-Aviv: Hadar Publishing Company, 1965. Seewann, Harald. Theodor Herzl und die Akademische Jugend. Graz: H. Seewann, 1998 (2 copies). Seewann, Harald. Zirkel und Zionsstern: Bilder und Dokumente aus der versunkenen Welt des Jüdisch Nationalen Korporationswesens : ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Zionismus auf Akademischem Boden. Graz: Harald Seewann, 1992 (2 copies).

These were removed from the collection, cataloged individually and shelved in the Special Collections Department's general stacks.

In the container list, the designation "n.d." is used to mark folders that contain undated documents, and such documents are filed at the end of folders. "WRP" is used to designate William R. Perl. The terms "unidentified" "unattributed" and "illegible" are used when a good-faith effort on the part of the Manuscripts Librarian to determine speakers, authors, or other identifying information failed.


  • 1925-1998


Restrictions on Access

Some records may be restricted.

Restrictions on Use

Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.

Historical or Biographical Note

William Raphael Perl was born in Prague on September 21, 1906 in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Much of his youth and early manhood was spent in Vienna. As a student at the University of Vienna, Perl joined Ivria, one of several Jewish fraternities, and soon became deeply immersed in the growing Zionist movement. After earning a Ph.D. in Law and a Master's degree in International Business, he practiced law in Vienna until the Nazi take-over in 1938.

A protégé of the revisionist Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky, Perl became increasingly concerned and active in attempting to safeguard Jews from the violent Nazi campaign against them. In 1938 he organized "Die Aktion," a circle of young Viennese Zionists dedicated to making Theodore Herzl's dream of an independent Jewish state a reality. Less than a year later, Die Aktion succeeded in landing a number of "illegal" Jewish immigrants on the coast of then British-controlled Palestine (now Israel). This daring move is believed to have been the first successful landing of such refugees, when almost every other escape route had been closed to them.

It was also the beginning of one of a remarkable and daring refugee movements in modern history. Working with Zionist groups and Greek smugglers, Perl organized large-scale illegal immigration of Jews to Palestine and prodded reluctant Jewish leaders into doing the same. Often pursued by the Gestapo and the British agents determined to stop illegal immigration, Perl rescued an estimated forty thousand European Jews from annihilation by the Nazis. In his book The Four Front War and Operation Action, Dr. Perl's describes this history.

In 1938, Perl married Lore Rollig, a Viennese woman who converted to Judaism when they were married. Their marriage was a closely guarded secret because Nazi law treated such intermarriage as a serious crime. In 1940, Perl managed to reach the United States and was working to arrange for his wife to join him when Nazi Germany declared war on the United States and she could not come to America. In 1943 Lore Perl was arrested for aiding Jewish children and was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp.

Perl joined the U.S. Army in 1941 and worked as a military intelligence officer. He was assigned to Allied Intelligence in London, where he worked with British intelligence officers. In 1945 he risked court-martial and imprisonment to rescue Lore from Vienna, then under Russian command.

After the war, Perl played a key role in the prosecution of Col. Joachim Peiper and other members of the Waffen SS for the murder of American prisoners of war at Malmedy, Belgium in December 1944. The Perls settled in the United States with their two young sons, Raphael and Solomon. Dr. Perl continued his study of psychology at Columbia University and then served as an army psychologist until his retirement with the rank of Lt. Colonel in 1966.

In the early 1970s Perl received international media attention for his protests against persecution of Jews by the Soviet Union. As head of the Washington branch of the Jewish Defense League, Perl organized demonstrations outside and inside the Soviet Embassy and at public events involving Soviet officials. These activities lead to his arrest and conviction in federal court in November 1976.

In 1989, Perl's third book, The Holocaust Conspiracy, was published giving a detailed account of conscious efforts by key figures in the United States, Great Britain, Switzerland, the Soviet Union and other nations to prevent the escape of Jews from Nazi-dominated Europe. Throughout his life, Dr. Perl remained active in Jewish affairs. On December 24, 1998, Dr. William Perl died at his home. In the preface to the publication The Four Front War by Israel's then-Prime Minister, Menachem Begin wrote "Your deeds, Dr. Perl, will be remembered forever by the Jewish people, indeed, by all people of good will."


5 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



The William R. Perl Papers document the education, professional career and social activism of William R. Perl (1906-1998).

Collection Organization

Organized into eight series: Biographical files, Jewish activism files, Military service files, Professional files, Legal files, Miscellaneous writings, Miscellaneous correspondence, and Mixed media.

Acquisition Information

Collection donated by Lore Perl in 1999.

Reparative Description Project

This finding aid was revised in November 2022 to address harmful terminology related to mental illness and language of aggrandizement. For the several folder titles identified as being created by the donor were not edited and historical context notes were added for explanation as to why these terms remained. The aggrandizement language identified in the biographical note was written by the archives staff and were removed from the description.

To view the finding aid prior to this revision work please use Pre-revision November 2022 finding aid of the William R. Perl papers

Guide to the William R. Perl papers, 1925-1998
Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center, The George Washington University Repository

2130 H Street NW
Washington 20052 United States of America