La Jolla memorials honor Jewish chaplains, Buddhist army veteran

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Poet and artist Frieda L. Levinsky reflects on the service of 14 Jewish chaplains memorialized on a plaque to be installed this week atop Mount Soledad. Pat Sherman photos

By Pat Sherman

La Jolla poet and artist Frieda L. Levinsky is grateful to be alive. Levinsky was just 8 years old when her family fled the tiny town of Belz,

Ukraine (then a part of Poland) as the Nazis made their advance in September of 1939.

A nun who worked on her father’s farm offered to hide her family.

“My parents said absolutely not, because Hitler would find out and kill all of the people in the convent, and then he’d kill us — so we ran,” recalled Levinsky, now 81.

The family fled first to Rava-Ruska, Poland (also now a part of Ukraine) where Levinsky’s mother had relatives. The Soviets then sent the family and other Jewish people to seek sanctuary in Siberia, where many died of starvation or disease, Levinsky said.

“We would mix grass with flour to make pancakes,” she recalled. “We were lucky we weren’t sick enough to die, because people were dying all around us.”

Though Levinsky, her brother and parents survived the Holocaust, other relatives did not.

Her aunt, one of the few people to escape Auschwitz concentration camp alive, lost her mother and siblings to the genocide.

Levinsky’s gratitude for her survival has taken several forms — in contributions to organizations such as the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, and another organization that honors so-called “Righteous Gentiles,” or non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from execution.

In her own community, Levinsky has chosen to honor those who helped save her family’s life and made similar heroic sacrifices via memorial plaques at the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial.

She has dedicated granite plaques to both 33rd U.S. President Harry S. Truman and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Though only an estimated 250,000 victims of Hitler’s persecution were admitted to the United States after World War II, Levinsky credits Truman with helping her family find refuge in the U.S.

“I said, well, he deserves my thank you,” Levinsky said. “Churchill is also why I’m here. If not for Churchill, I’d be ash. More millions of people would have been killed if Russia, the United States, Britain and France didn’t stop Hitler.”

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Frieda L. Levinsky stands next to several of her framed poems. She is the author of the 2007 collection of verse, "Enlightened Ambiance."

Levinksy also purchased a plaque honoring U.S. Air Force loadmaster John Lee Levitow (1945-2000), who became the lowest-ranked service member in the Air Force to

receive the Medal of Honor. As a student at San Diego State University, Levinsky admired him for enlisting in the Vietnam War, while others drafted for service fled to Canada or elsewhere.

“He suffered 40 different shrapnel wounds saving his buddies,” Levinsky said. “He was my hero.”

Levinsky’s most recent plaque, to be installed this week, is dedicated to the same 14 Jewish chaplains

who were honored two years ago at Arlington National Cemetery — though it took an act of Congress to make that happen.

One of the 14 memorialized, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, was part of the four “immortal chaplains” aboard the USAT Dorchester on Feb. 3, 1943, when it was hit by a German torpedo and sank.

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