Recognition at last for Colonel Levey


It has been more than 70 years coming but public recognition of the bravery, tenacity and plain goodness of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Henry Levey DSO OBE is finally being recognised.

As Acting Chairman of British ORT Lt Col Levey, who died in 1970, travelled personally into the dark heart of Nazi Germany to negotiate the evacuation of the students and staff at Berlin’s ORT Technical School, which had been founded by his organisation.

Thanks to him, 106 Jewish boys aged between 15 and 17, along with eight instructors and their families left the Reich for England on 29 August, 1939 “モ five days before the two countries went to war; a second transport, with a further 100 boys and the school’s Director, Dr Werner Simon, failed to leave Berlin because of the outbreak of war.

Now, World ORT is arranging for Lt Col Levey’s name, together with the moniker given to those he saved “モ the Old Boys “モ to adorn one of the seven sites comprising the massive Science Park which its programmatic arm in Israel, Kadima Mada, is building in Kiryat Yam with the support of the Schoenbaum Family Foundation. “It would be nice if it leaves an impression on the people who use it,”? said “Old Boy”? Hans Futter, who went on to found a highly successful engineering company in England after the war. “Our story can teach them to pull themselves together when things are tough and to do the best they can do to survive. Israel has its own problems and we don’t need to tell them how to stand up to it. But I am only glad that Colonel Levey should be recognised for all he did for ORT and the children. People should get to know about him.”?
Mr Futter’s sentiments were shared by fellow Old Boys and others who attended a reunion at the Jewish Museum in London last week. The event marked the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ORT Leeds School, a vocational training college established in northern England to continue where the Berlin school left off.
But it was Lt Col Levey, British officer and proud Jew, the man who strode into meetings with the Nazis in the full dress uniform of his Scottish regiment, who was on everyone’s minds.
“There’s never been an actual tribute to him, so that was the purpose of the get together,”? said Suzanne Solomon, Mr Futter’s partner and co-organiser of the event. “We would be delighted that a site in Israel would be named in Colonel Levey’s honour “モ it’s never too late. The Old Boys came away with a feeling that they had achieved something.”?
Only four of the original 106 boys saved by Lt Col Levey remain. They, together with other veterans of the ORT Leeds School and even some Survivors of the doomed 3 September transport, came from as far away as New York and Spain for the event.
“It was fairly emotional because of all the memories that were being aired,”? Ms Solomon said.
Monica Lowenberg was the only child of an Old Boy to attend the event, keen to understand more about the experiences of her father, Ernest, now 88, and his fellow Survivors.
“It’s beautiful that they are given this opportunity to have this contact with ORT, that they can still exercise this connection, because ORT saved their lives,”? Ms Lowenberg said. “I have a deep sense of gratitude because without ORT my father would not be here “モ and neither would I.”?
Ms Lowenberg has done extensive research on the ORT School in Berlin and shared some of her insights at the reunion.
The school was founded by British ORT as a response to Nazi racial laws which excluded Jewish boys from state schools. Being under the protection of the British Government it escaped the destruction of Kristallnacht and the boys learned a range of valuable skills from carpentry to mechanical and electrical engineering and plumbing.
Despite the indomitable Lt Col Levey, the Nazis initially refused to release the boys but changed their mind after British Government intervention. They steadfastly refused, however, to let go of the machinery owned by the school.
The negotiations were only the first obstacle which Lt Col Levey had to overcome. The second was to stamp the boys’ passports with the necessary visas. Time was of the essence but the British Consulate was already closed and Lt Col Levey had to find an employee to let him in and help him search for the correct stamp.
En route to England, the boys had to change trains at Cologne only to find that the carriages of the new train were locked. A window was smashed and two boys pushed through to open the doors from the inside.
Even in England their tribulations were not over. There was the pain of being separated from friends and family, the need to learn English quickly (and to never speak German in public), and then, after graduating from the ORT school, some of them were interned as “enemy aliens”?.
“British ORT is proud of the part it played in the amazing story of the ORT Leeds School,”? said British ORT Chairman Simon Alberga at the reunion lunch. “Each of you in this room carries an incredible story. Each one of you is here because earlier generations of British ORT lay-leaders had the foresight, the knowledge and the strength to fight for whatever they could salvage from the flames of Nazi Europe.”?
Tribute was paid at the event to the bravery of the Old Boys, the foresight and ingenuity of their leaders and teachers, all of which stood as a testament to the resilience, strength and tenacity of the human spirit.
And it was this message that World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer hoped would be understood by generations of young Israelis as they used the Kadima Mada Science Park.
“It is an amazing privilege to meet the people who not only survived the Nazis but came through with the determination to succeed in life and were able to realise their ambitions thanks in no small part to the help they received from ORT,”? Mr Singer said. “It was literally “リEducating for Life’. It is a chapter from our history which inspires us in our work today and which will, I am sure, also inspire those who learn of it through seeing the names of the heroes involved.”?