Mendel Marshak was born in 1901 in Minsk. After finishing secondary school, he was drafted into the Red Army (to serve in the artillery), but after suffering from illness, he was dismissed from military service. He graduated from the Leningrad Institute for Food Industries (now St. Petersburg University of Refrigeration and Food Processing Technologies) and worked in Minsk in administration, for the Belorussian Trust for the Meat and Milk Industries.
With the beginning of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, Marshak received a call-up to the army. He left Minsk, leaving behind his wife and two children, who later perished in the Minsk ghetto. During the entire war period Marshak served as a quartermaster in the Red Army. According to Marshak's memoirs, 1 in the winter of 1941-1942, probably during the Rzhev-Viazma operation, he was seriously wounded in the spine. He spent a long time in hospital, returning to active service only in June 1943. On the recommendation of the former Peoples' Commissar (Minister) of the Meat and Milk Industries, Marshak was appointed head of the 2nd Field Office for the Supply of the Central Front (later – the 1st Belorussian Front) with the rank of quartermaster 3rd class (equal to captain). This office supplied the front with meat and meat products. For successfully carrying out this responsibility he was awarded the medal For Battle Merit — in November 1943, the Order of the Red Star — in March 1945, and the Order of the Patriotic War, 2nd Class -- in May 1945. With this front Marshak moved westward, through western Russia, Belorussia, Poland, and, finally, into Germany.
After the capitulation of Berlin in May 1945, Colonel Marshak served with the military administration of the Soviet zone of occupation in Germany. Part of his job entailed sending cattle seized by the Soviets as reparations from Germany to the Soviet Union.
In 1946 Colonel Mendel Marshak was arrested by Smersh — the counter-espionage body within the Red Army – on the charge of helping many Jews who had been liberated from Nazi camps to reach the American zone of occupation in Berlin, from which they could proceed to the USA or to the Land of Israel. Although he was sentenced to death, after being held in prison for quite some time, he had his sentence reduced to a long term in a Gulag camp, where he spent the decade from 1946 to 1956.
After his release, Marshak left the Soviet Union for Poland. In 1959 he immigrated to Israel.
Mendel Marshak died in 1988.
Chaim Dan recollects Mendel Marshak in Berlin
In his book of memoirs Mimidbar Mizrayim vead Minhen, Tel Aviv: Am Oved, 1972 Chaim Dan, a former member of the Jewish Brigade, wrote:
"Everyone in Berlin knows the 'Marshak's estate' – he is a veritable master of the city. They say about Marshak that he is a Jew with a great soul, and that he helps our refugee brethren. He provides them with everything they need and directs them on the way to the Land of Israel. 'You have nothing to do in Europe,' he says openly. 'I myself would have gone to Palestine if not for my official position,' and he gives them passes to West Berlin, thus opening a new road – from the East through Berlin and Bavaria to the Land of Israel."
- 1. Mendel Marshak, Kol kara ve-halahti. Tel-Aviv: Hakibbutz Hemeuchad, 1976, pp. 20-21.