As Max and Marlene will tell you, “We’re just lucky!”
Max and his extended family were living in Romania, where his father worked in the family business as a barber (scherer means cutter or barber in German). Around the time of Max’s bar mitzvah in 1941, they were rounded up and sent by train to a concentration camp in Transnistria, in what is now Ukraine. By a stroke of luck, the captain at the camp learned they were Austrian as he was, and arranged for them to be sent to a small village where he thought they would work in a sugar factory. This saved their lives. During this time, they were housed in the spare room at a bakery, where they lived for the next three years – no light, no heat, no water and no toilet – but there were plenty of vermin. As the Germans were pulling out of the camp ahead of the returning Russian army, one last soldier, ready with a hand grenade, looked around the bakery. Because he saw no light in the room, he kept on walking – Max’s family was saved again. Soon they were liberated and made their way back to Romania.
A few years after the war ended, they moved to San Francisco. Marlene and her parents were living in the Mission along with some Jewish families. Among their acquaintances was Max’s aunt (who had sponsored them for immigration to the U.S.). Marlene’s mother had met Max’s aunt casually and learned about the recent arrivals from Europe. When she later told Marlene about the sons in Max’s family, Marlene’s ears perked up. Soon afterwards Max and Marlene met at an ice cream shop near the SFJCC after a Saturday night dance. Within 2½ months they were married.
By 1968, when they moved to Marin, they had two daughters, Evelyn and Susan, and one son, Arnie. In addition to raising the 3 children, Marlene also worked for United Cerebral Palsy for over 20 years. Max had done well in business and they were able to buy a large home site in the Marin Country Club to build their dream house. Once settled in their house, Max could realize his passion for gardening. Having made 18 trips to Israel, they’d been inspired to create a garden with the native plants and trees of Israel. They have since supplied the temple with the esrogs and lulavs for Sukkot.
Max and Marlene maintained a strong Jewish identity and eventually found their Jewish home at Rodef Sholom. Once Rabbi Barenbaum was hired, Max took an instant liking to him and was always proud to say, “He is my rabbi.” Another story Max likes to tell is after many years of going to the Civic Center High Holy Day services, Max says he felt, “Something was missing. A mezuzah!” He took it upon himself to hang a mezuzah at the door each year and take it down when services were over.
Of course, most people at Rodef Sholom know Arnie Scherer. As an inquisitive 6-year-old, he found a shofar on the bima of their old shul. He showed a natural talent for blowing it, and by the time he was 15, he was regularly blowing shofar for High Holy Day Services. He is still doing so to this day, leaving an indelible mark from the Scherer family.
Max and Marlene will both readily admit that they are lucky people. They’ve been married for over 65 years, kept their Jewish identity and passed it on to their children and grandchildren.