Film challenges Holocaust naysayers

MEDIA MONITOR

April 08, 1991|By Steve McKerrow

A half-century later, perhaps the scariest thing about the Nazi regime's final solution is that the horrors of the Holocaust can be dismissed as irrelevant to current generations -- or worse, dismissed as not having happened at all.

It is that palpable fear, as projected persuasively by actor/producer Leonard Nimoy, which provides the dramatic power of "Never Forget," a movie premiering tonight on cable's TNT service (at 8 p.m., with repeats at 10 p.m. and midnight, and on April 9, 10, 13 and 14).

Nimoy (far removed here from his unemotional Mr. Spock of "Star Trek") portrays a real-life California lumber merchant, Mel Mermelstein, who in 1980 was responsible for achieving the first formal notice in a U.S. court that the events of the Holocaust are "not reasonably subject to dispute."

That seems a minor point, given the ample documentation of Hitler's methodical concentration camp killing of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, political enemies and others during World War II. Beyond that are numerous war crimes trials, from Nuremberg on, which would seem to be proof enough of the cruelty of which human beings are sometimes capable. (It is also chilling and timely to note that the term "genocide" is in the daily news even now, with the Iraqi victory over the Kurds in the Persian Gulf region.)

Yet "Never Forget" projects the small picture behind the larger truth and also raises the fear that hatred seems a perpetual human characteristic.

For Mermelstein is a man who has spent much of his life since emerging from the Auschwitz death camp, the sole survivor of his family, quietly fulfilling a promise to his father "to be a witness to the world."

In a section of his successful business in Southern California, he has assembled over the years a museum of relics of the camps, made speeches to groups about his experiences in "a scene of madness" and written letters challenging hate groups that contend the Holocaust never happened.

Yet in the movie, as in real life (Mermelstein is listed as executive producer of the film), he is challenged by one such group, the Institute of Historical Review, to prove in court that even one Jew was gassed in Hitler's ovens.

With the help of a Texas-born Irish Catholic attorney (Dabney Coleman) and the support of his wife (Blythe Danner) and family, he takes on the haters.

Like many movies whose basic motive is to deliver a message, this one is sometimes heavy-handed and obvious. But by focusing on a single man, and the effect his single-minded pursuit has on those around him, "Never Forget" brings the message down to a very personal level. And Nimoy, who pursued this project for a number of years, makes it all believable.

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