Bert Lewyn, 92, died Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, at his Buckhead home, surrounded by his loving family and caregivers.
Born Dagobert Lewin to Leopold and Johanna Wolff Lewin in Berlin on April 2, 1923, Bert’s early years presaged a life of perseverance and achievement in the face of daunting odds. The Gestapo deported his parents and enslaved Bert in a Berlin weapons factory on March 27, 1942, when Bert was 18. In 1943, when the Nazis deported all Jewish factory workers, Bert managed to avoid capture, and he began a 2½-year journey of survival described in “On the Run in Nazi Berlin,” a book he would co-author many years later with his daughter-in-law Beverly Saltzman Lewyn. “On the Run” has since sold over 10,000 copies and has been published in a German translation. Bert’s story has also been chronicled in numerous publications, including The Jerusalem Post, several German publications, and “Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti.
At the war’s end, having learned that nearly all his family had been murdered by the Nazis, Bert lived in a displaced persons camp in Feldafing, Germany, for four years. The highlight of his time in the camp was his travel to Sweden as a metalworking instructor for ORT at the invitation of the king of Sweden. Bert was finally able to begin his postwar life when Rabbi Tobias and Mrs. Geffen of Atlanta, his great-aunt and -uncle, sponsored his immigration to Atlanta in 1949. Bert moved in with Rabbi and Mrs. Geffen and found both a wife and a job with the Geffens’ help.
Bert married Esther Sloan of Atlanta on Dec. 23, 1951, and took a job with a local metalworking company while attending English classes at Commercial High at night. Seven months later, he enrolled at Georgia Tech. Subsequently, Bert started his own woodworking machinery business with no office, no contacts, no money, no parents, no mentors or other role models, and barely any English skills. He called on potential customers all across the South, leaving Esther on Sunday evenings and returning on Fridays. He drove 200,000 miles a year, determined to provide his wife and family a secure future. His company, Lewyn Machinery, finally made a tiny profit just about the time the first of his five children, Andrea, was born in 1955. His Herculean efforts building Lewyn Machinery Co. began to pay off as his company and his family grew over the next decade. The company emerged as one of the largest woodworking machinery importers in the United States. During this time Bert and Esther welcomed four more children: Lawrence, Marc, Cindy and Michael.
Bert’s determination to build a business was matched only by his quick wit and relationship-building skills. He persuaded machinery manufacturers from England, Italy, Japan, Taiwan and even Germany to hire him to represent them in the United States and similarly counted as customers some of the largest American furniture makers. His most lasting business achievement was as a co-founder of the Woodworking Machinery Importers Association of America (WMIA), which established the largest international woodworking trade show in the Western Hemisphere, held every two years at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.
Bert will be most remembered for the love he had for Esther, his children and his grandchildren, the admiration and love of his friends, the respect his business colleagues had for him, his dry wit, and his fierce love and defense of the Jewish people and of Israel. Bert was predeceased by his parents, Johanna and Leopold Lewin, and is survived by his loving wife, Esther Sloan Lewyn; daughters Andrea Lewyn Krakovsky and Cindy Lewyn; sons Lawrence, Marc and Michael Lewyn; son-in-law Ed Krakovsky; daughter-in-law Beverly Saltzman Lewyn; and grandchildren Jake and Sloan Krakovsky and Alexandra, Rachel, Sarah and Rebecca Lewyn.
A memorial service for Bert will be held at The Temple on Tuesday, Jan. 5, at 1 p.m. with Rabbi Peter Berg and Rabbi Ilan Feldman officiating. Interment will follow at Arlington Memorial Park. Contributions may be made to the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust or to a charity of one’s choice.