Part-time cantor Joseph Schein, survivor, 82

Joseph Schein, a Holocaust survivor who often served as cantor at Congregation B’nai Israel of Rossmoor, died Thursday, Nov. 25, in Walnut Creek. He was 82.

Schein was born on July 15, 1922 in Sosnowiecz, Poland, the eldest of three children. His father was a painting contractor, and taught him how to paint.

The young Schein exhibited such talent that he was supposed to go to America to study art. But on the very day he was to leave — Sept. 1, 1939 — Germany invaded Poland, and the borders were closed.

Schein’s parents sent him to Russia, where he traveled from village to village. But fearing for the well-being of his family, he returned to Poland. He found that his village had been walled off and turned into a ghetto. He and his family were deported shortly afterward.

Schein spent the war in 13 concentration camps. He survived because he could fix anything and was often chosen for certain jobs, said his daughter, Marlene Dines of Alameda.

“My father was very clever, very talented, and a good-looking, charming man,” said Dines. “Any time a job had to get done, he volunteered to do it to stay alive. And each time he’d say ‘I must have a helper,’ and by doing that each time, he could save someone’s life.”

Buchenwald was his last stop, and just before it was liberated by the Americans, Schein was forced on a death march. The 6-foot-tall prisoner was down to 70 pounds, and contracted typhus.

After a four-month hospital stay, he bumped into an acquaintance, who told him that his childhood sweetheart, Regina Rynski, had also survived. He went from displaced persons camp to displaced persons camp, until he found her. They married on Sept. 30, 1945. None of his immediate family survived.

In 1946, the couple arrived in New York, living first in Manhattan, then Long Island. Schein began painting houses, and then learned how to build them. He spent his career as a contractor. He and his wife had two daughters.

In 1990 they moved to Walnut Creek and lived in Rossmoor.

Because of his Jewish education, fluent Hebrew, musical talent and voice, Schein served as a cantor at B’nai Israel. He led High Holy Days services, and sang Kol Nidre.

He volunteered for many different organizations and was involved with the Mt. Diablo-Rossmoor B’nai B’rith Lodge, serving as its president and for many years writing its newsletter. “After a lifetime of mechanical expertise and a career of constructing houses, he decided to take on the world of technology when he bought his first computer [in his 70s],” said his grandson, Benjamin Dines of Alameda.

He put his artistic talent to use in his later years by learning how to make jewelry.

“He was always looking for a creative outlet,” said his daughter, Marlene Dines. “Though his family always came first.”

In addition to wife Regina of Walnut Creek and daughter Marlene Dines of Alameda, Schein is survived by daughter Rosalind Plishner of Kensington and four grandchildren.

Donations can be sent to the Mt. Diablo-Rossmoor B’nai B’rith Lodge No. 1756, c/o Leon Brill, 1216 Leisure Lane, Apt. 3, Walnut Creek, CA 94595.

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."