By 1983, Professor Schmelzer was able to say, “We are in about the same, if not better, situation than before.”
Prof. Schmelzer, who was fluent in four languages during his tenure as head librarian, taught seminary students first as an assistant professor of medieval Hebrew literature and Jewish bibliography, and since 1980 as a full professor. His particular expertise was in liturgical Hebrew poetry known as piyyutim. When he completed his doctorate in seminary, his dissertation was on the work of his 11th-century Spanish rabbi, famous for such poetry.
Menachem Hayim Schmelzer was born on April 18, 1934 in the peasant village of Ketzel in southern Hungary. His house had no electricity or indoor plumbing. His father Ferenc sold wine made from local grapes and his mother Margit (Gottesmann) Schmelzer was a stay-at-home mom. Since Keser had no yeshiva, Menahem learned his rudimentary knowledge of Hebrew and Jewish law and rites at Cheddar, a Jewish primary school.
When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, Germany’s ally Hungary sent men like Hitler to military concentration camps. By 1944, mass deportations of Jews had begun, with 10-year-old Menahem, his mother, and his brother Otto put on a crowded train to Auschwitz. At some point in the journey the train stopped and the last few carriages, including the one carrying Menahem and his family, were not coupled. The three ended up in the Strassof labor camp near Vienna.
He later found his family safe thanks to a deal by Nazi official Adolf Eichmann in which 21,000 Jews were exchanged for five million Swiss francs to buy munitions and trucks to stave off Germany’s defeat. I learned that was saved.