MEYER MENDELSON (August 24, 1894-February 13, 1961)
The brother of Shloyme Mendelson, he was born in Warsaw, Poland, into a Hassidic rabbinic family. On his father’s side, he was the great-grandson of the eminent Warsaw rabbi, Shloyme-Zalmen Lifshits, author of Ḥemdat shlomo (Solomon’s precious gift) (Warsaw, 1836). On his mother’s side, he was a grandson of the Koyler Rav, Avigdor-Leybush Levental. His father Hershl Mendelson was a son-in-law of Shaye Prives, the affluent Hassidic intimate of the Gerer rebbe. Meyer Mendelson (named after his grandfather) was orphaned at an extremely early age on his father’s side and was raised by his mother in a home with a strongly traditional Jewish environment. Until age sixteen he studied in religious elementary school and synagogue study hall, and he later attended a Polish high school. He then left home, moved to Russia, worked in a paper factory in Homel (Gomel), Byelorussia, and conceived an interest in chemistry which he went on to study at universities in Vilna, Berlin, and Paris. Over the years 1920-1922, he lived in Vilna, at which point he was already a Bundist, working for awhile as a teacher in a secular Jewish school and as secretary for the Jewish people’s university in Vilna. In 1922 he left for Berlin, and from 1925 until WWII he was living in Paris, where his home at 24 Rue Bonaparte was the address for Yiddish writers, artists, and cultural leaders from various countries. Among his closest friends were: Sholem Asch, Zalmen Shneur, and Ozer Varshavski, among others. He was active in the Parisian Bund and in cultural institutions. In 1937 he was one of the organizers of the exhibition of secular Jewish schools run by Tsisho (Central Jewish School Organization) in Paris. In 1940 he moved to the United States. He worked as a chemist in factories in Peabody, near Boston, and in New York, which was his place of residence. For many years he worked in New York for a large factory making chemical products for the American navy, and in the factory he produced several dozen chemical inventions and received state patents for them—the patents became the possession of the factory. In New York Mendelson was active in the organization of the Bund and was a member of the “central bureau of the Bund organization in the United States and Canada.” He went on assignment for the Bund to Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Mexico. He served as vice-chairman of the committee of the Bund’s archives named for Frants Kurski in New York. He wrote articles on science and literature and published them in: Di naye shul (The new school) in Warsaw (1922)—among others, a piece in issue 6 entitled “Di romantic un di visnshaft” (Romanticism and science); Shul-vezn (School system) in Vilna-Warsaw; Parizer veker (Paris alarm) and Unzer shtime (Our voice) in Paris (1931-1939), in which, among other items, he published an overview of modern French literature. Over the years 1957-1960, he was in charge of a section, “Fun yidishn lebn in amerike” (From Jewish life in America), for Unzer shtime. In Unzer tsayt (Our time) in New York, he placed work on French literature, such as: “Z. P. Sarter” (Jean-Paul Sartre), “Visnshaft un literatur” (Science and literature), “Visnshaft un ideologye” (Science and ideology), and “Albert kami” (Albert Camus), among others. Together with A. Reinhartz, he translated Wilhelm Ostwald’s textbook Di shul fun khemye, ershter araynfir in khemye (The school of chemistry, first introduction to chemistry) (Warsaw: Kultur-lige, 1924), 219 pp., which was used in secular Jewish schools in Poland. He died in New York. Among his surviving manuscripts are works on philosophy and Marxism, also notes on Kabbala. He belonged for many years to a Masonic Lodge and assumed a prominent role there. His wife, Dr. ALBERTA SHALITA, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, whom Mendelson married in New York, published her work from time to time in Unzer tsayt. Above the document room in the Bund’s archives in New York hangs a bronze plaque to the memory of Meyer Mendelson.
Sources: Y. Yashunski, in Bikher-velt (Warsaw) 7 (1928); Y. Y. Trunk, Poyln (Poland), vol. 7 (New York, 1953), p. 146; Shloyme Rozenberg, Sholem ash fun der noent (Sholem Asch close up) (New York, 1958), pp. 122, 155, 205, 631; Y. Rotenberg, in Foroys (Mexico City) (August 1958); Unzer shtime (Paris) (February 22, 1961); “Ershte yortsayt fun meyer mendelson” (The first anniversary of the death of Meyer Mendelson), with appreciations by Kh. Sh. Kazdan, Sh. Rozenberg, Dr. Karl Horovits, and Y. Kharlash, Unzer tsayt (March-April 1963); Arbeter ring boyer un tuer (Builders and leaders of the Workmen’s Circle) (New York, 1962), p. 248.
Khayim Leyb Fuks