Cornelia Connelly School is now home to Holocaust survivor Mel Mermelstein’s unique collection of art and artifacts. The collection, a new fixture on the school campus, will be accessible to the public in spring 2019.
To honor two men with ties to Anaheim, and who shared a significant moment in history, the City of Anaheim recently hosted an event that was intended to allow Holocaust survivor Mel Mermelstein to meet his liberator, Dr. William Kott, 73 years later. The date of this meeting, October 9, was also significant as it marked the date Mermelstein was granted a major victory in a 1981 lawsuit against Holocaust deniers. A judge declared that the gassing of Jews is “simply a fact,” and that “It is not reasonably subject to dispute.”
Although the meeting between Mermelstein and Kott did not end up taking place due to last-minute health issues from 92-year-old Mermelstein, the event at Anaheim’s council chambers still proceeded. Guests to the event included Mermelstein’s daughter Edie and his grandson Michael, Kott’s family, friends, Cornelia Connelly School students and administrators, veterans, and several reporters.
Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait introduced Dr. Kott to the audience, who were treated to a history lesson from a living WWII eyewitness who fought in the European Theater. The 96-year-old WWII veteran, Bronze Star recipient, concentration camp liberator, and Anaheim community leader recounted his experience in the U.S. Third Army under General George Patton, as photos of him as a young soldier in his 20s were displayed. Kott fought in the Battle of the Bulge and then later, on April 11, 1945, helped liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp where Mel Mermelstein and thousands more were imprisoned.
After Kott finished speaking, Mel Mermelstein’s daughter Edie clutched Kott’s hand and with much emotion said to him, “I just want to thank you. Without you, my family wouldn’t be here today.” Mel Mermelstein was the only member of his family that survived Auschwitz-Birkenau, Gross Rosen, and Buchenwald.
Over the past several decades, Mermelstein has been collecting artifacts from the Holocaust and has even created new art from some of the pieces he’s collected. This unique collection has been graciously donated to Cornelia Connelly School in Anaheim, which plans to make the museum accessible to the public, particularly to schools, so they can enhance their curriculum, which typically includes studying the Holocaust in U.S. History. Kott’s son, Paul, told Edie, “Your father’s donation – your family has made Anaheim a richer place.”
Cornelia Connelly School, an all-girls private Catholic high school established in 1961 in Anaheim, is pleased to be the new home to Mermelstein’s collection. Connelly’s Assistant Head of School, Dr. Cathy Rauterkus, was on-hand at the event. She told reporters, “Any way we can keep the history alive and make sure that students understand this history is what matters the most.” The school is preparing to tentatively open the museum doors to the public in spring 2019.