Benjamin Levin, 93, Partisan ‘Avenger’ Who Fought the Nazis
Benjamin Levin, a resistance fighter who battled the Nazis, died April 13.
Joining at age 14, he was the last surviving of a group known as the “Avengers,” partisans who bombed Nazi trains, bridges, and cut communication wires. They lived in the forest outside Vilna and were led by Zionist militant Abba Kovner.
Levin was so successful that seven decades later, Lithuania still had an arrest warrant for him. His parents were killed in Vilna after the war by neighbors when they attempted to reclaim their home.
Levin later joined the clandestine Zionist fighting force, the Irgun, and assisted in helping European refugees make it to Palestine.
After being jailed by the Soviets in Siberia, he hitchhiked to Italy and reattached himself to the group. He headed to Palestine aboard the fabled Altalena, which was fired upon in June 1948 by the newly formed Israeli Defense forces in one of the most famous incidents in Israeli history. As the boat smoldered in the harbor near Tel Aviv, Levin swam to shore.
Director Steven Spielberg called him “The Forrest Gump of Jewish History” for his being serially present at such signal events in history.
“I was a witness more than a participant,” Levin said in a video made in 1997 by the Shoah Foundation.
He moved to New York in 1967 where he found employment as a mechanic for the MTA and a gas station owner. Levin was a popular guest in speaking at New York City public schools about his life experience.
His son Chaim told the New York Post: “He repeatedly emphasized his mantra, ‘That’s life,’ because in his view life is full of peaks and valleys, successes and failures but is always interesting and should be appreciated.”