Most of what is known about the details of the Nazi decimation of the Skala Jewish community is due to the efforts of one man, Max Mermelstein, to organize the publication of two editions of the Skala yizkor (memorial) book. Published first in Yiddish in 1978, it was fully translated and supplemented with new content in an 2010 English edition titled "Skala On the River Zbruch: A History of the Former Skala Jewish Community."
Mermelstein was a member of the prominent Weidenfeld family of Skala who fled the Borschow ghetto and survived with two cousins and others in a forest colony in 1943-44. After the war, acting through the New York based Skala Benevolent Society, he spearheaded the project to collect writings and photographs to document Jewish life in Skala before and during the Shoah.
In addition to major contributions by Gedalia Lachmann, Chaim Brettler and others, Mermelstein's own chapter about forest survival is the authoritative account of this aspect of the Shoah in Skala.
Early on in his research for ghostwriting Michael Edelstein's autobiography, Walter Ruby interviewed Max Mermelstein in his New York home in 2012. Several audio clips and a transcript of the interview are included here.
A few weeks ago, Dan Ruby visited the JCFS Holocaust Center in San Francisco to view testimony recorded in 1984 by Max Mermelstein from the Fortunoff Video Archive of Holocaust Testimonies managed by Yale University. The photos below are frames from the video.
Max Mermelstein passed away in 2017. May his memory be for blessing.
Besides his importance to the story of Skala generally, Mermelstein is also a key player in the story of Michael Edelstein that is recounted in his memoir Live Another Day, the source for this blog.
His important interaction with the author in the aftermath of the liberation of Skala, when Max advises Michael how to register for resettlement under a different surname, is a pivotal moment in the book. A half century later, in 1999, Max served as a guide for Michael and his family on a journey of remembrance to Skala, also recounted in detail in the book.
As mentioned, Mermelstein was interviewed by Walter for the book in 2012. His observations on the history and sociology of Skala comprise much of the content of Chapter 1. View an edited transcript of the interview here.
The interview is great but does not cover his memory of the name-change scene described in the book. It also does not cover discrepancies between Max's published account of surviving in the forest and Michael’s account of his forest experience.
Likewise, the 1984 video testimony provided wonderful context but no new information to further enlighten matters.
We'll look at all that and more in the following post, including our theory as to why the discrepancies were not clarified in the 20 years between the Skala trip and Max's recent death. Here, we are attaching a transcript as well as several audio clips from the interview.
In Memory of Max Mermelstein z"l 1922-2017
About the Skala Yizkor Book
Download the Yizkor Book
Walter Ruby Interview Transcript