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Their Memory Lives On: The Levy Brothers

Two years ago, I stumbled upon the trail of two relatives, known to my mother as Onkel Gustav and Onkel Alfred but whose histories were otherwise a blank to me.

Born in 1871 and 1881 respectively, Gustav and Alfred Levy were brothers who lived together in the small Rheinland-Pfalz town of Klingenmünster in Southern Germany. Both were unmarried, had no children, and were already elderly men when the Nazi persecution was underway. My mother never knew what happened to them.

Alfred Levy

But I discovered that there were Stolpersteine honouring their memory – the only Stolpersteine in a town which, although small, had had a long-established Jewish population.

That summer I visited Klingenmünster, saw the Stolpersteine and laid flowers there, examined a small exhibition about the Levy brothers, and even met two people who remembered them. I leaned then that the brothers had been very popular; later, quite by chance, I discovered much more about them.

The Stolpersteine for the Levy Brothers

The brothers are remembered for their kind natures by a small mention in a German crime fiction book, “Das Gläserne Glück” by Lilo Beil (published 2015). Frau Beil’s godmother was one of the children of the 1930s who knew and loved these kindly men, and she told her goddaughter all about them. In this novel, which deals in part with the deportations to Gurs (an internment camp in southwestern France), there is a brief paragraph about two old men who tried to help people during the dreadful deportation. These men were called Gustav and Alfred Levy.

Da waren die beiden älteren Männer, die Brüder Alfred und Gustav Levy aus Klingenmünster an der Weinstraße. Zwei so liebe Menschen. Sie sprachen den Leuten unentwegt Trost zu und halfen, wo es nur ging.

I contacted Frau Beil, and in her reply she wrote

Alfred and Gustav, those brothers whose names I mention in my whodunit “Das gläserne Glück” in order to honour them. I had to include them in my book, as my godmother Emilie Degitz actually knew Gustav and Alfred when she was a child. Emilie was born in 1930 …. and she once told me that she would always remember how sad she was when those two nice neighbours had to leave “with their small suitcases” (it was October 22, 1940 ….). That horrible deportation to Gurs !  … My godmother furthermore told me that those two men were ever so nice and friendly and that she and all the other kids in the neighbourhood played hide and seek in their house and that they were always welcome !

I wrote “Das gläserne Glück” in 2013, and my godmother Emilie Degitz had mentioned Gustav and Alfred in a telephone call – they had been very friendly, those Levy brothers, and “we spent almost as much time in their house as in our own houses”. And she said:”Eine schlimme Zeit, …. oh such bad times when innocent people who didn`t harm anybody were deported and murdered.” And I had to include them: real people in a fictitious whodunit. REMEMBERED, not forgotten.

The other day Inge Hummel (one of the people whom I myself had met in Klingenmünster) told me on the phone that for the children in the neighbourhood the Levy brothers and especially Alfred were unforgettable. Inge told me about the sweets Alfred had always in store for them and that they played games with him, he was so patient and good-humoured, and Inge told me again and again: I will never understand why two such nice men had to be deported and killed.

Alfred Levy with his horse, Lisa. Perched on Lisa are my mother, Ursula Michel, and her little sister, Lilli.
The Stolpersteine, and the popular Levy brothers, are mentioned in a local travel guide – 111 Orte in der Pfalz, die man gesehen haben muss [111 places in the Pfalz that you have to see] (ISBN 978-3-7408-0881-5).

I contacted the author of the travel guide, and received the following in reply

By chance I wrote the text about the Stolpersteine, and in my research for the text I sensed how highly regarded the Levy brothers were in Klingenmünster. It was also important to me to reflect this in the text. I am all the more pleased that you confirm this.

According to the travel guide, local children were told at the time that the brothers had gone to live in an old people’s home. But evidently one or two of the children knew the truth – certainly the two whose memories I have quoted.

The journey in memory of my relatives Gustav and Alfred Levy is not quite over – next year I hope to be able to work with the crime author, Frau Beil, to participate in a commemoration of the deportation of Jews from Southern Germany to Gurs, in which the Levy brothers are included.

Although there are no photographs of Gustav, he is commemorated by this headstone at Gurs Camp, where he died in 1942.

Judith Rhodes

 Leeds, 2021

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