Mel Mermelstein dies: Survivor took on Holocaust deniers


All of 17, Mel Mermelstein wasn’t positive of his destiny when he was compelled to board a prepare sure for Auschwitz.

On the Nazi loss of life camp, he watched troopers lead his mom and two sisters to the showers the place they’d be gassed. Because the months wore on and his physique withered to a skeletal 68 kilos, he realized his father had died as a slave laborer at a close-by coal mine and his brother had been fatally shot on a loss of life march to a different camp.

When the Nazi focus camps had been lastly liberated and the gates swung open for all of the world to lastly see the atrocities that had unfolded inside, Mermelstein promised himself that he would without end be an outspoken public witness to the Holocaust.

His vow got here into full show a long time later when he took on a right-wing group that claimed the Holocaust was a fantasy and provided to pay $50,000 to anybody who might show that any Jews had been killed within the focus camps. By the point Mermelstein was via with them, the Torrance-based Institute for Historic Evaluate was compelled to pay double the reward, make a public apology and stand in humiliation as a Los Angeles trial choose dominated — firmly — that the Holocaust was “an incontrovertible fact.”

By no means removed from his mission to stop the Holocaust from fading from world view, Mermelstein died Friday at his dwelling in Lengthy Seashore from issues of COVID-19, his daughter Edie Mermelstein stated. He was 95.

An writer, lecturer and reminiscence keeper, Mermelstein made greater than 40 journeys to Auschwitz, Buchenwald and different World Conflict II loss of life camps, amassing strands of barbed wire, cyanide canisters, bone fragments, items of ovens utilized in cremations and different grim tokens of the loss of life camps. He even returned from one journey with a grainy {photograph} of himself huddled with a gaggle of ravenous males within the barracks.

Mermelstein ultimately constructed a museum at his Huntington Seashore lumber yard the place he displayed the artifacts — practically 700 in all — after which invited college students to tour the ability, a part of his nonprofit Auschwitz Examine Basis. His daughter stated the wartime artifacts at the moment are being curated and may have a everlasting dwelling on the Chabad Jewish Heart in Newport Seashore.

Mel Mermelstein speaks from a chair in 1986.

Mel Mermelstein in 1986.

(David Muronaka / Los Angeles Instances)

Born Sept. 25, 1926, Moric Mermelstein was raised in a Jewish enclave in Mukachevo in what then was Czechoslovakia, and later Hungary after Adolf Hitler forcibly annexed town. In 1944, he and the remainder of his household had been rounded up and brought by prepare to Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland, the most important of the Nazi loss of life camps the place a couple of million folks died, most of them Jews.

The one survivor in his household, he left Europe after the conflict and got here to New York, the place an aunt and uncle lived. When he married Jane Nance a number of years later, the younger couple moved to Lengthy Seashore in the hunt for hotter climate. He opened a lumber yard in Huntington Seashore that specialised in making wooden pallets.

At first he spoke solely sparingly concerning the Holocaust. However through the Six-Day Conflict in 1967, he stated a number of the infected rhetoric from political leaders, notably in Egypt, reminded him of Hitler’s incendiary speeches. From then on, he spoke freely, typically and loudly concerning the Holocaust.

In 1980, Mermelstein turned conscious of the Institute for Historic Evaluate and its provocative supply to anybody who might show Jews had been slaughtered within the Holocaust. He responded with indignant letters to the editor on the Los Angeles Instances and the Jerusalem Publish. In flip, the institute started to hound him.

“They actually received in his face, sending him hair with blood on it within the mail, saying his mother and father had been nonetheless alive and dwelling below assumed names,” his daughter stated.

Although some associates and different survivors urged him to disregard the group, saying chasing after the reward would solely give useless consideration to a ragtag assortment of antisemites, Mermelstein took them to court docket as a substitute, providing his 1979 memoir “By Bread Alone” and the writings of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and others as proof.

After 5 years, with the mound of proof now reaching 3 ft excessive, Los Angeles County Superior Court docket Decide Thomas L. Johnson put an finish to all of it, ruling the Holocaust was an incontrovertible fact.

“A choose, an American choose, stood up and stated ‘Sure, the Holocaust just isn’t topic to dispute,’” Mermelstein instructed Smithsonian Journal in 2018. “That second stands out in my thoughts. Now and without end after, the judicial discover stands.”

His authorized struggle to problem those that dared change the narrative of the Holocaust was chronicled within the 1991 tv film “By no means Overlook” with Leonard Nimoy as Mermelstein.

His greater rewards, his daughter stated, had been the legions of scholars who listened to his tales, as graphic and numbing as they may be, and got here away impressed by his resilience.

“He persevered,” she stated.

Along with his daughter, Mermelstein is survived by his spouse of 60 years, Jane; youngsters Bernie, Ken and David; 5 grandchildren and one great-grandson.

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