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Gray Panthers Activist Once Eluded Nazis

March 21, 1993|LINDA FELDMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Born in Berlin, Eva Bluestein spent World War II in occupied France, dodging Nazi persecution by living underground.

She had an assumed identity, false papers and the savvy of someone who, though only an adolescent, believed that the moment you have not acted, you have not lived. And today, at age 77, Bluestein lives this philosophy through her work with the Gray Panthers.

Bluestein was going to be a scientist, but the war changed all that. "We lived in a primitive state--very self-conscious about being caught," she said. "People were tricked into revealing their identities. You could be standing in a crowd and suddenly someone would deliberately bump into you and step on your toes, and depending on what kind of sound you made you could be identified as a foreigner. . . . We had to be so careful not to understand German when we heard it spoken, even if what we understood meant danger, because it could also be a trick."

A key to her survival was her mastery of French. It was the young Bluestein who was sent to update the false identification cards for the group of German Jews she was a part of in Paris.

"I would go to this person carrying the group's papers--it was a matter of luck that I wasn't caught," she said. "To this day, I don't live with any fear. It's not that I'm aggressive, it's that I'm persistent. When you're young, you still have hope. It was a challenge--I remember thinking someone has to survive."

Bluestein came to the United States in 1946 and settled in Los Angeles. The day after she arrived, she enrolled at UCLA. She had mastered English, spoke German and French, understood Greek and Latin and eventually learned Spanish.

"Before the war, I wanted to be a scientist," she said. "After the war, I developed a social conscience. I could empathize. After graduating from UCLA with a degree in sociology, I worked for Jewish Vocational Services. I met people who came from the concentration camps, and that's how I eventually understood the Holocaust--through working with the survivors."

Eva Bluestein's social conscience keeps her busy. She contributes small amounts of money to more than 150 worthy causes. She raises funds for Women's American ORT--an organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of people through training them in job skills. And she was just elected treasurer of the recently reactivated L.A. West Gray Panthers chapter.

It was health care issues that drew her to the Gray Panthers, Bluestein said. The organization has been advocating a national health care plan since its inception 20 years ago.

The Gray Panthers, she said, welcome people of all ages who want to "fight to change attitudes and laws which tell the most vulnerable in our society that they must settle for less."

Eva Bluestein knows what happens to people when life becomes cheap and small. "I'm not concerned about what I accomplish," she said. "Life is deteriorating, and I see such an atmosphere of fear and desperation. Action must be taken."

For more information about the L.A. West Gray Panthers, call (310) 581-6720.

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