Holocaust survivor shares personal artifacts collection with Anaheim high school

ANAHEIM, Calif. (KABC) -- There was a special reunion in Anaheim between the family of a Holocaust survivor and an Army veteran who helped liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp.

"Without you, my family wouldn't be here today," said Edie Mermelstein, whose father, Mel Mermelstein, survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

Edie and her family thanked 96-year-old Dr. William Kott at a gathering at the Anaheim City Hall council chambers Tuesday.

On display, a photo of Mel, who was just 18, lying on a top bunk at Buchenwald.

"He was 68 pounds and close to death," Edie said. "But for the Americans coming in...I wouldn't be here."

Kott, then in his 20s, was a sergeant in General George Patton's 3rd U. S. Army that liberated Buchenwald.

"Bodies were scattered all over the ground," said Kott, a Bronze Star recipient. "One building had two double ovens where a body could fit in. Another building had shower sprinklers - only water didn't come through, poison gas came through."

The horrors of the Nazi death camps are captured in artifacts collected over decades and in unique artwork created by Mermelstein that is housed in his museum in Huntington Beach.

"This is not just killing, this is unbelievably doing away with human beings like trash," Mermelstein told Eyewitness News in 2015.

Mermelstein - a Hungarian born Jew-was the sole survivor in his family. He went on to write an autobiography "By Bread Alone".

"His mother and 2 sisters went to gas chambers right off when they got to Auschwitz but his father said we need to split up and somebody needs to survive to tell the story of what has happened," Edie said.

She said her father created the collection of artifacts to share with the world.

"My dad created this (collection) so it could be shared and passed on and it's really his legacy," she said. "He doesn't want anybody to forget-that was a promise he made to his father."

Now 92, he's donating his collection to Cornelia Connelly High School in Anaheim, after its headmaster, Edie's high school friend, said they could open their doors to tours.

Anaheim is also Kott's hometown.

"Your father's donation - your family has made Anaheim a richer place," said Paul Kott, William's son.

The get-together on Tuesday is also significant because on in 1981 Mel Mermelstein won a major victory in court when he took on Holocaust deniers. A judge declared the gassing of millions of Jews was an indisputable fact.

Mermelstein was not able to make the reunion in Anaheim, but Edie shared a message for Kott.

Turning to face him, she said "I just want to thank you," as the crowd applauded.

Tours of the collection at Connelly High School could begin in spring 2019, according to a city spokesperson.
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