Losing Our Two Survivors
OpinionYom HaShoah Thoughts

Losing Our Two Survivors

The approach of another Yom HaShoah is a reminder that fewer witnesses to the Holocaust are with us each year.

Rabbi David Geffen

Rabbi David Geffen is a native Atlantan and Conservative rabbi who lives in Jerusalem.

Bert Lewyn and Bev Lewyn wrote is “On the Run in Nazi Berlin" four decades after Bert arrived in Atlanta.
Bert Lewyn and Bev Lewyn wrote is “On the Run in Nazi Berlin" four decades after Bert arrived in Atlanta.

For the Geffen family, this past year had a bittersweet taste. We lost the two Holocaust survivors whom we had all come to know through Rabbi Tuvia Geffen and his wife. Though they both were from Sara Geffen’s family, Rabbi Geffen loved each one dearly and did all he could for them.

The older was Bert Lewyn of Atlanta. The Geffens brought him to Atlanta in 1949 from a displaced persons camp in Germany, where he had been since the war ended. Many of you have read Bert’s story in the book he wrote with daughter-in-law Bev Lewyn, whom many of you know.

The book is “On the Run in Nazi Berlin,” written 40 years after he came to Atlanta at the urging of a first cousin, Dov Levin, who also died this past year. One of Levin’s areas of expertise was oral history. He pushed his cousin to record the details of his three years alone in Berlin.

But the book came to be because Bev Lewyn, a CNN veteran, pulled the rest of the story out of her father-in-law. Then the two of them wrote the book together. My wife read one draft and offered her suggestions. With a great deal of effort, Bert and Bev finished the book and had it published.

When we in the family read it, we were amazed because none of us had heard Bert’s story. His ability to survive, as recorded in the book, has inspired all the family members and, I am sure, many of you.

Our other survivor who left us last year was Professor Dov Levin of the Institute of Contemporary Jewry of the Hebrew University. Levin published 22 books in various languages and 800 articles. He was relentless in proving that the Jews did fight back against the Nazis.

A native of Kovno, he escaped the ghetto there and was able to join the Lithuanian partisans. Few Jews were permitted in those ranks. For several years he was one of the partisans’ most dedicated guerrilla fighters.

After a career of two decades of being a social worker in Jerusalem, he completed his doctorate at the Hebrew University and began to work steadily on the history of the Jews in the Baltic countries: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The books and articles brilliantly flew from his mind.

Via our visits and studies in Israel, the grandchildren of Rabbi and Mrs. Geffen came to know Dov, his wife, Bilha, and his children, Nitzana, Bastmat and Zvika, very well because we spent many wonderful times in the Levin home.

Clearly, the impact of the Levins inspired six grandchildren to make aliyah. Many of us here were present at Dov’s funeral, as were professors and former comrades in arms.

Yom HaShoah has truly become a time to reflect on the great losses families experienced. We had many Geffen relatives who were slaughtered.

For many of you, the verse in Zechariah is most important. Thankfully, some of us have “our own brands plucked out of the fire.”

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