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Why a Holocaust center in the O.C.?

April 29, 2013|By Patt Morrison
  • Elie Wiesel, a Nobel laureate, is a distinguished presidential fellow at Orange County's Chapman University, home of a burgeoning Holocaust studies program.
Elie Wiesel, a Nobel laureate, is a distinguished presidential fellow… (Los Angeles Times/Allen…)

If you were wondering, well, so was I: how is it that Elie Wiesel, the renowned Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor and author, came to be an annual fixture on the campus at Orange County’s Chapman University, founded as a Protestant institution of the Disciples of Christ?

That’s where I interviewed him for my last column, in the school's growing center for Holocaust studies, with an academic program and a memorial library to support it all.

Wiesel told me he credits the center’s director and founder, Marilyn J. Harran, a scholar of Martin Luther who has been a well-nigh irresistible force in making the place happen. Orange County attorney William Elperin, who belongs to a group of Holocaust survivors and descendants, told the Jewish Journal that Harran “is the person most responsible for transforming Orange County from a Holocaust denial center to a Holocaust education center."

Patt Morrison Asks: Elie Wiesel, history's witness

Chapman’s Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education bears the name of winemakers Barry and Phyllis Rodgers; he was an aeronautical engineer, and she was a computer software developer. The teaching position, the Stern chair in Holocaust education, was a gift of Orange County philanthropists Sue and Ralph Stern; his parents left Germany for South Africa before the persecutions began, but some of his relatives died in a Nazi death camp in Poland.

And the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust memorial library bears the names of the Holocaust survivors who became the parents of the Broadcom billionaire and Anaheim Ducks owner Henry Samueli.

Chapman’s collection is not confined to the written and scholarly. There’s a briefcase that once carried false papers to Jewish children who were in hiding, and a self-portrait by a black expat artist with Jewish forebears, Joseph Nassy, who found himself clapped in a prison camp.

And as a dramatic centerpiece, a bust of Wiesel. In case anybody at Chapman forgets what he looks like before he returns next year.

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