About Mel Mermelstein
Mel Mermelstein, the sole survivor of his family, survived the infamous Nazi Death Camp Auschwitz. Mel immigrated to the United States after WWII. He was drafted into the army in the 1950s. In 1961 he married and moved to sunny Southern California to re-grow his family tree. He started a lumber manufacturing company Ideal Pallet in 1965.
In 1967, Mel made his first trek back to Auschwitz. In 1968, he brought back a memorial piece given to him by the Auschwitz Museum. He approached the temple he belonged to display the memorial. In 1968, it was considered too heavy. Without a home, the piece became the catalyst to Mel’s creation of what became a 1,600 square foot collection.
For over 30 years, Mel returned annually to Auschwitz, bringing back artifacts, and artifacts and more artifacts. Mel began to create with the artifacts as his cathartic process. Mel’s exhibit grew and grew. Mel made the exhibit available to high school and college students. Eventually, his daughter Edie would take students through his exhibit. The power of art aided Mel in his healing journey. Mel expressed his grief and pain through processing the items he brought back from Auschwitz and other death camps.
In the early 1970s, Mel started sharing his story and the atrocities of the Holocaust with students and communities. He fiercely fought against the urge of society to sweep the atrocities that happened to him, his family, and the Jews under the rug. Mel fiercely debated Holocaust deniers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and became the target of a neo-Nazi group, the Institute of Historical Review. In 1980, the IHR personally challenged Mel to prove the Jews were gassed at Auschwitz. After accepting the so-called Holocaust deniers’ offer, the IHR reneged and a court battle ensued. On October 9, 1981, Mel obtained judicial notice 34 years after the Holocaust ended from Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas T. Johnson that Jews were gassed to death at Auschwitz in the summer of 1944. The court battle which became the subject of a Turner Network Television movie starring Leonard Nimoy as Mel Mermelstein.
In the summer of 1999, Mel accompanied Erin Gruwell’s Freedom Writers to Auschwitz. During the journey, Mel opens his heart as he shares his story of survival with these kids from all walks of life. Back in the United States, Mel and his collection served as a teaching tool for decades bringing Auschwitz to Southern California. However, after 53 years, Mel’s business Ideal Pallet had to close its doors leaving the now vast collection without a home.
Decades after the Freedom Writers trip to Auschwitz, they help carefully pack up Mel’s artwork, the artifacts and the collection he had created and move it to a warehouse for storage. After years in storage, Mel’s legacy and his collection find a home where future generations can learn the lessons and find hope and peace in an unsettled world.