The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: people/m/mermelstein.mel/press/la-times.0994

Archive/File: holocaust/usa/california irvine.001
Last-Modified: 1994/11/09

                               Los Angeles Times

               September 6, 1994, Tuesday, Orange County Edition

SECTION: Metro; Part B; Page 3; Column 1; Metro Desk

LENGTH: 549 words



   Richard Prystrowsky, an Irvine Valley College English professor, is forming a
Holocaust studies group on campus, a small step toward his larger ambition of
creating Orange County's first Holocaust center.

   In a climate of rising concern over hate crimes, Prystrowsky, 38, said county
residents must confront the historical consequences of unchecked racism in order
to sow the seeds of tolerance in modern times.

   "The Holocaust is not over," says Prystrowsky, who records the testimony of
Holocaust survivors for the Orange County chapter of the Anti-Defamation League.
The taped recordings are stored at UC Irvine. "It didn't take long for the
survivors to realize that the same world that had built Auschwitz is the same
world to which they had returned." 

   Prystrowsky is working with Holocaust survivor Mel Mermelstein to build
interest in creating a county center for Holocaust studies and exhibits.
Mermelstein, 67, founder of the Auschwitz Study Foundation, has constructed his
own small-scale Holocaust museum on the grounds of his 32-year-old Huntington
Beach pallet-making business.

   Mermelstein was 17 years old in May, 1944, when he was sent to Auschwitz, the
largest of the World War II concentration camps. He was freed from the
Buchenwald camp in April, 1945. His parents, two sisters and one brother did not
survive the Nazi death camps.

   Mermelstein said he believes the lessons of the Holocaust must be taught to
new generations and retaught to those who have grown indifferent about human

   "We have not learned how to live together -- how to respect one another,"
Mermelstein says. "Can you imagine, after Auschwitz, hearing the term 'ethnic
cleansing'? What are they referring to? The killing of babies, of men, women and
children. This is inconceivable."

   Mermelstein was the subject of the 1991 made-for-television movie, "Never
Forget," which chronicled his legal battles with revisionist groups that contend
the Holocaust never happened. With such groups still active in Orange County,
Prystrowsky believes the need for a county-based Holocaust center is clear.
   "There is a tremendous interest in this," says Prystrowsky, who includes
Holocaust studies in his history and writing classes and conducts a seminar on
the Holocaust at Irvine Valley College each spring. "Look at the numbers of
people who went to see 'Schindler's List.' They brought that interest to the

   Posted on the wall of Prystrowsky's tiny campus office is a quote from
philosopher Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel that underscores his passion for the
creation of a Holocaust center in Orange County: "Six million were wiped off the
face of the earth. And there is the danger that they will also be annihilated
from our memories. Are they doomed to a twofold annihilation?"

   During interviews he conducted with those who, like Oskar Schindler, risked
their lives to help Jews survive during World War II, Prystrowsky says he has
discovered the key human ingredient that motivated their actions.

   "It's compassion," Prystrowsky says. "These individuals had such a high
degree of compassion that they were able to transcend the law of
self-preservation. The designers of the plan to eradicate the Jews were
extremely well-educated people. What they lacked was compassion."RUSS LOAR

GRAPHIC: Photo, Irvine Valley College professor Richard Prystrowsky hopes to
create a county center for Holocaust studies and exhibits.  CRAIG WALLACE
CHAPMAN / Los Angeles Times

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