Doctor who survived Holocaust and Stalins plot dies in S.F.

A prominent Ukrainian doctor who survived both the Holocaust and Stalin’s plot to kill Jewish doctors has died. Moisey Melamud, who later immigrated to San Francisco, died Sunday, Jan. 9, in San Francisco. He was 92.

Melamud was born in Novoceliza, Ukraine, on Sept. 20, 1912. His father was a lawyer who moved the family to Novaya Ushiza — also in the Ukraine — when Melamud was a young boy.

After graduating from the Kiev Polytechnic Institute, Melamud worked as an engineer. But he had always loved biology, and in 1928 he entered medical school in Kiev.

He was studying there when World War II broke out. The medical school moved its students to Chelabinsk, in the Ural mountains. Meanwhile, all of his immediate and extended family were murdered in Novaya Ushiza by Nazi shooting squads.

While in medical school, Melamud met a fellow student, Zinaida Kolker, nine years his junior. They were able to marry only in 1945, after the war ended. Melamud was first sent to the Russian front, to work as a doctor. He was assigned to a field hospital.

After the war, Melamud had trouble finding a job, and he and his wife believed it was because he was a Jew. He spent most of his career working in internal medicine.

Later, he found out his name was on a list of prominent Jewish doctors kept by Russian dictator Josef Stalin. Many Jewish doctors on this list were executed for supposedly being spies, setting off a new wave of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. Stalin died before all of the executions were carried out.

Melamud first visited the United States in 1975. Denah Bookstein, a cousin by marriage who lives in Berkeley, met him then.

“He had ultimate faith in the capacity of individuals to transcend circumstance and do good in the world,” said Bookstein.

Melamud and his wife moved to San Francisco in 1993. Though he suffered health problems, he used a Russian typewriter with enlarged letters pasted on the keyboard to type stories about his life. Some were published in the local Russian newspaper, Kstaty.

Bookstein once asked him how he continued to write, when it was obviously so difficult for him. His answer: “I must.”

In addition to his wife, Zinaida Kolker, of San Francisco, Melamud is survived by his son, Yakov, of San Francisco, and one grandchild. He was predeceased by his daughter, Elena Melamud.

Contributions can be made to Emigre Services at JFCS, 2150 Post St., S.F., CA 94115 or Hadassah Medical Organization, c/o San Francisco Hadassah, 1715 Polk St., S.F., CA 94109.

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."