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Photos, memories and a play

Concentration camp survivor will share his experience with those who come to see 'I Never Saw Another Butterfly' at the Laguna Playhouse.

February 07, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Jack Pariser, a Laguna Beach resident, survived the Holocaust in Poland by hiding with his family in a hole in the ground in a barn for two years.
Jack Pariser, a Laguna Beach resident, survived the Holocaust… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Jack Pariser has something he's eager to share.

Giddy, he steps to the kitchen table and brings back a stack of photos, the top few of which show a gray-haired woman posing with his daughter and others.

"The last surviving lady who saved us!" he says with a near-theatrical flourish, beaming a smile that wipes away half of his 83 years.

Pariser, a retired engineer who lives on a rocky hillside in Laguna Beach, is a Holocaust survivor. He has no qualms about saying that now, even though he did for decades as a young man. This month, he's scheduled to talk about his experiences again, meeting with children after a youth theater production at the Laguna Playhouse.

He'll go into that in a moment, but first he wants to present — in photo form — the last remaining person responsible for him being here now. As a child, hiding from the Nazis with his family in Poland, Pariser took shelter with a pair of families, and Maria, the woman in the pictures, is the youngest child of the second one. Pariser has only a fleeting memory of her from the 1940s; he and his parents and sister hid in her barn for two weeks, and she would sneak their food to them when she went to feed the pigs.

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Pariser's living room looks almost like a shrine to that time in history; aside from the photos of Maria, the coffee table sports an array of Holocaust books, one of which, a survivor's yearbook produced by Chapman University, features Pariser on the cover. And yet the mood here is anything but somber.

Pariser tears up on occasion remembering the past, but a moment later, his face reverts back to a playful grin. Even the book cover photo shows him grinning through sunglasses, his arms outstretched before a blue sky. He carries himself, understandably, like a man who has gotten some amazing breaks in life and looks forward to seeing what comes next.

For the short term, that will be "I Never Saw Another Butterfly," a play by Celeste Raspanti based on a book of poems and pictures by children who lived in the Terezin concentration camp. To accompany each of the play's five performances, the theater has booked a Holocaust survivor to speak to the audience, and Pariser will appear at both Friday shows and the first on Saturday.

"I would love to forget it all," he says quietly, his smile disappearing for a moment. "But it's no longer possible."

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