Gert Marcus, Daly City volunteer cantor, dies at 77

Rabbi Ted Alexander grew up around the corner from Gert Marcus in Berlin. They attended the same synagogue and their families were close.

Both were able to flee Germany before it was too late, and they were reunited in the Bay Area some years later, where both served as religious leaders.

On Wednesday, Alexander, the spiritual leader at Conservative Congregation B'nai Emunah in San Francisco, conducted the funeral for his childhood friend.

"He was a very lovely person, and always used his voice to further Jewish knowledge," Alexander recalled. "He had a brilliant voice."

Marcus, of Daly City, died on Saturday of leukemia. He was 77.

Marcus, who went by the American nickname Gerry, began singing in the synagogue as a young boy. Although never formally trained as a cantor, he studied voice and opera in Shanghai, where he spent the duration of World War II. It was there that he met and married his wife, Ruth, another refugee from Germany. They came to San Francisco in 1947.

Marcus went into the baby furniture business, but continued to sing. In 1947, he began singing in an Oakland choir, and in 1948, he won first prize in the KFRC Radio amateur hour for his performance of light opera.

Soon after, he began volunteering his services as a cantor for no pay. He said it was because of a promise he made to God in 1938.

It was the day after Kristallnacht and Marcus was working as an apprentice cook and baker in a Hanover hotel when Nazis broke down the door. With a gun pointed at his head, Marcus fell to his knees and began reciting the Sh'ma, and the hotel owner volunteered to take his place. Both men were let go, but that moment was a pivotal one for Marcus.

"I promised that if my life were spared, I would devote myself to Jewish benefits," he told the Jewish Bulletin in 1993. "I believe it was the hand of God that spared me. Some things are beshert [fated]."

His wife of 53 years, Ruth, said, "He always did it out of the goodness of his heart. He was always willing to help any temple in need, and was willing to give up his free time to help them."

He acted as cantor at B'nai Israel, a former Daly City synagogue, for many years. He also volunteered his services at small synagogues around Contra Costa County. In 1994, he returned to Germany to lead High Holy Days services in the northwestern city of Braunschweig — the first High Holy Day services held there in 45 years.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by sons Michael of New York, Stephen of Alamo and Kenneth of San Jose; grandson Alexander; brother Klaus; and cousins Lolita Baker and Fred Marcus.

Donations can be made to the Leukemia Society of America, 55 Hawthorne Avenue, No. 510, S.F., CA 94105.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."