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Survivor will share his story at Chabad of Newport Beach in light of Holocaust Remembrance Day

Joseph Alexander shows the identification tattoo he received at Auschwitz.
Joseph Alexander, who will come to Newport Beach Sunday to discuss what happened to him and millions of other Jews after the Nazis invaded Poland, shows the identification tattoo he received at Auschwitz during a previous talk at the L.A. Museum of the Holocaust.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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In light of International Holocaust Remembrance Day this week, survivor Joseph Alexander will come to Newport Beach Sunday to discuss what happened to him and millions of other Jews after the Nazis invaded Poland, replaced his name with a number and worked him to the brink of death.

The event will be held at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newport Beach. It will begin with an optional tour of its Holocaust Education Center.

It’s the only museum in Orange County commemorating the experience of those who suffered or died in concentration camps and the lessons learned in the wake of their attempted genocide, Chabad of Newport Beach’s Rabbi Reuven Mintz said. It hosts one of the largest collections in the United States of artifacts taken from those forced labor and extermination compounds.

A picture of Mel Mermelstein above a sketch of Holocaust deniers displayed at Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newport Beach.
A framed picture of holocaust survivor Mel Mermelstein above a sketch of Holocaust deniers in a courtroom on display inside the Mermelstein exhibit on Friday at Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newport Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

That includes over 700 bullet casings, bone fragments and other pieces collected by survivor Mel Mermelstein that had been used as evidence in a 1981 court ruling affirming that the atrocities he and others lived through, undeniably, happened. He died last year on Jan. 28, one day after Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“We’re blessed to have around 100 survivors in our midst here in Orange County,” Mintz said. “It’s more important than ever to hear their testimony as we’re seeing an increase in hate in our communities.”

“Did you know that 15% of millennials said they blamed Jews for World War II?” he added, referring to recent surveys. “Two-thirds of them didn’t know what Auschwitz or Dachau were when they were asked.”

The late Mel Mermelstein, founder of the Auschwitz Study Foundation, is photographed in Huntington Beach in 1999.
The late Mel Mermelstein, founder of the Auschwitz Study Foundation, was photographed at his Huntington Beach museum exhibit in 1999.
( Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times)

Those were two of the 12 concentration camps that Alexander endured after Germany invaded Poland in 1939. He and his family were among scores of others rounded up by the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto. He was 17 years old at the time.

His father bribed guards so he and two of his sisters could try to escape, but they were caught. His captors wound up tattooing six numbers into the skin of his left forearm: 142584.

“After this, I didn’t have any name anymore,” he said in a statement ahead of his talk on Sunday. “The guards called me only by my number. So, when I look at it every day it’s a reminder that I got my name back and I am a free man.”

Holocaust survivor Joseph Alexander tells his story at the L.A. Museum of the Holocaust, where he speaks often.
Joseph Alexander tells his story last week at the L.A. Museum of the Holocaust, where he speaks often.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Alexander’s parents and siblings weren’t able to see the defeat of the Nazis and the end of World War II. He spent about five years in Europe before moving to the United States and starting a family of his own, and he recently celebrated his 100th birthday. Today, he resides in Los Angeles and continues to impart his experiences and lessons learned in the hope that what happened to him and so many people he cared about might never be repeated.

“It’s all of our responsibility, collectively, to stand up and transform darkness, hate and negativity,” Mintz said.

Tickets for the talk on Sunday cost $18 and are available at Chabad of Newport Beach’s website. The tour of the Holocaust Education Center will start at 5:30 p.m., and Alexander’s presentation is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Rabbi Reuven Mintz touches barbed wire from a Nazi concentration camp at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newport Beach.
Rabbi Reuven Mintz touches barbed wire on an actual post removed from a Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz during World War II on display at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newport Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

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