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 HEADLINE: ORANGE COUNTY FOCUS: IRVINE; HOLOCAUST STUDIES GROUP TO BE FORMED BYLINE: By RUSS LOAR BODY: 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 rights. "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 movie." 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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