A LITTLE HISTORY OF OUR SHTETL DIVENISHOK (DEVENISHKI)
BY SARAH LEVI
According to history, our region had Jewish settlers in that part of the country as early as 1433, when wealthy land owners governed. by 1766, there were 94 Jewish families and 1225 Jews were counted in 1897.
Between 1914 and 1945, the occupation went from hand to hand. In 1915, the Germans occupied our region for 2 years, followed by the Russians for a short time. In 1919, the Polish Government gained control and held it until 1939 when Soviet Russia again occupied part of Poland. In 1941, Germany took over our town and the Holocaust for our people started in our Shtetl with such a tragic end. In 1943, the Soviets gained control and they also took over Lithuania, our closest neighbor, and we became part of Lithuania, a Russian satellite.
People who went back to see what remained in Divenishok reported that no Jews remained. Most of the property was destroyed. The few homes standing were occupied by the people who were our friends --- who hated us most.
I did a little research on our Shtetl Divenishok and could not find the name of Paltiel. However, in the 1940's and 1950's, Auntie Annie, Myron Levis mother, received a letter from Israel from a lady who identified herself as a niece, originally from the town of Iwie (Evya) in Poland. She was Holocaust survivor and asked for help. My recollection is that Auntie Annie corresponded with her for quite a while and sent her money. Annie would gather old clothes from her friends in Hanford, California and bring them to me in Fresno. I would sort them, pack them up, and mail the packages to Israel. I do not remember her name or address. I then assume that Laar and Anna came from Iwie.
Nathan remembers his father, Pesach, telling the story that when Lazar came to town to marry Malke (Malka Lewin/Ann Lazarus), he didnt' ask for a dowry even though it was a custom at that time. Evia is on the map, southeast of Divenishok/Devenishki.
I found a picture of Nathan's father, taken at the cemetery by the memorial stone of his father, Meyer Lewin. The inscription on the stone says eh died in 1916 but does not mention his age. According to tadition, Meyer's fathers [sic] nameis inscribed on the stone and his Hebrew name is [HEBREW], Mattis in English pronunciation which translates to the English name Matthew. He is the oldest known of the Lewins.
The picture of Pesach and his family [Family-Book-09-003] was taken at the time Nathan and Morris were to leave for the United States, 50 years ago, in February of 1938. Left to right are pictured, Pearl (Karchmer) Lewin/Levi, Morris Lewin/Levi, Mendel Baker who was Channa's son, her husband David Baker, Channa (Lewin) Baker, Paisach's wife Raina Lewin, Paisach Lewin, Nathan Lewin/Levi and Sarah (Gersowitz) Lewin/Levi. Standing behind them, left to right are Chaia-Minke Baker, Rivka Baker, Sarah Rivke Lewin, Avram-Meyer Lewin. Libe-Merke Lewin is not pictured, nor is Roshe Faigel Lewin, who became Zipora Judenfriend when she married in Israel after going there in 1936.
As to the question of why Paisach and Channa did not follow the rest of the family to England and then to the United States, I have no answer. We assume it could have been because of family ties to their parents and spouses [sic] families. However, in later years when the family in the United States suggested immigration, religion was a major obstacle as Raina was a very religious woman.
Paisach was a very caring family man. He cared for and helped his sister, Chana, and her family and always looked after them. He made a living as a shoe maker, employing a couple of helpers. He made shoes and boots to order and also repaired them. He was involved in Shtetl affairs and helped people in need. Politics and discussions were always going on.
Zipora, Paisach's eldest daughter, belonged to Hachalutz and had a desire to go to Palestine, which is now Israel. It was under British Mandate and was closed to immigration, allowing only close families to unite. Raina had a brother in Palestine with the same last name of Lewin. The Uncle claimed Zipora as his daughter. She left or Palestine in 1935 or 1936 and settled on a farm where she met her husband, and Orthodox Jew who was also a farmer. They had one son and two daughters.
Morris and Nathan went to America because there was no future in Poland for Jews. Paisach wrote to his brother David Levi in Fresno askingif there wsa a possibility for his two sons to come to United States. The family decided they would all help and David was to be responsible for them and for filing the necessary papers. Through much effort, they left Poland in February of 1938. Three weeks before they left, Nathan married me and Morris married Pearl.
NATHAN MEYER (LEWIN) LEVI: I was born in Dziewienishok, Poland on November 1, 1913 and lived there until I was 25. Just three weeks before I left Poland in March of 1938, I married Sarah Tarba Gersowitz. She escaped in November of 1940. We have one daughter, Rosalyn Lee (Levi) Bloom who became a teacher. I worked in the business of my Uncle, David Levi, for about 4 years and then became a junk peddler for a short time. In 1944, Sarah and I, with the help of the family, opened a new & used furniture store and called it "Home Furniture Company". We continue to maintain our family business with the help of our daughter and her husband. We have always been active in Temple and Jewish affairs. In early 1988, we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary.
ROSALYN LEE (LEVI) BLOOM: I was born on March 25, 1942 to Sarah and Nathan Levi in Fresno and am their only child. After schooling in Fresno, I met my husband, Phil Bloom, while we were both teaching. We married in April of 1966. While teaching in San Bernardino, I became pregnant with our eldest son, Paul. With plans of family expansion, we decided to make our permanent home in Fresno. We joined the family business with my Mom and Dad. Paul was born in 1967, Aaron in 1970 and David in 1973. Paul has just completed his 2nd year at Reed college in Oregon. Aaron graduated from high school and is going to Fresno State University. David just started High School.
MORRIS (LEWIN) LEVI: I was born on September 20, 1916 in Dziewieniszki (which we called Devenishok) Poland to Paisach and Raina Lewin. I have a brother, Nathan, who is three years older than I am. In Poland, my name was Moshe Lewin and my brother's was Nochum Lewin. We changed our names upon immigration to the United States in March of 1938. I thank my Uncle David Levi and other family members in California for helping us to emigrate from Poland, just in time. Before leaving Poland, I married my wife, Pearl (Kreczmer) Levi. She arrived in the United States with my sister-in-law, Sarah Levi, in November, 1940. We have 3 children and 4 grandchildren. Until our retirement a few years ago, Pearl and I owned and ran "Acme Furniture Company" here in Fresno.
The Polish passport of Nathan Levi, known in 1938 as Nochim Lewin. On this page, we see the visa permit to emigrate, issued in Warsaw, Poland. On the following page are four more pages of Nathan's passport, also in Polish but with the rubber stamp of hte Oszmianski district of what was then Poland but had been a city and district of Lithuania and Russia. Whereas Dzewieniszki [sic] was a town, Oscmiana in any spelling is roughly equivalent to a county in the United States. It is difficult to read but it appears that the passport originated on 2 December 1937. Page 2 states that Nathan was born in 1913 in Dziewieniszki and give [sic] his physical description. Page four states that his destination is the United States of America of the north.
This complicated visa was first obtained from the Japanese consulate in Koyna (Kaunas). Then the transit visa came from Vilna and is in Russian. Also seen is the immigration visa stamp of the American vice consul in Tokyo, Japan. Next is the "intourist" visa from Moscow, allowing her to go from Moscow to Vladivostock and Japan. Apparently, this is followed by a Japanese rubber stamp, perhaps the entry stamp and receipt for fees paid to enter Japan.
When Germany occupied Poland, the American consulate and the the [sic] papers were transferred to Berlin, so Pearl and Sarah had to wait a long time for their exit visas to arrive. The papers finally arrived in Tokyo just one day before the ship sailed from Tokyo to San Francisco. Sarah recalls arriving in San Francisco on November 19, 1940. Some three and a half years later, Sarah became a citizen of the United States. She says, "I am a survivor and a lucky one."
BIOGRAPHIES IN BLOOM
BY ROSALYN LEE (LEVI) BLOOM
My formative years were wonderful. I lived in a sheltered home full of love and surrounded by family and the importance thereof. I was a happy child. I was taughty by example, the virtues of honesty, hard work, kindness, giving of oneself, and education. It is good to be able to say that I love, respect, and admire my parents (Sarah and Nathan Levi) for the people they are.
As a young person, I enjoyed classical music, ice skating and dancing.
After graduation from Fresno State College (now Fresno State University), I taught 5th and 6th grades. While teaching, I met my husband, Phil Bloom. We were introduced by the local Cantor. Phil was teaching high school music in Fresno. He had just moved to Fresno from Columbus, Ohio. We were married on April 3, 1966 and, the following September, we moved to San Bernardino where we lived for one year. We returned to Fresno to raise our family. Phil joined the family business, "Home Furniture Company", which Mom and Dad had started when I was about two years old. I stayed home with our children until they were all in school full-day and then went to work in the business part-time. Mom is now retired and I work full-time with Phil and Dad who still works full-time.
We have three wonderful sons. Paul (21) is the oldest and is a Junior at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. He has always been interested in science and is majoring in Physics. Aaron (18) is our middle son and is a Freshman at Fresno State University. He is tentatively majoring in business but isn't sure as yet. He is our walking compendium on sports information. David (15) is our youngest. He is a freshman in high school and is a member of the band. He plays the clarinet. (All ages as of January 1, 1989).
Our birthdates are as follows: Phillip 19 June 1934; Rosalyn 25 March 1942; Paul 19 December 1967, Aaron 6 April 1979; David 27 December 1973.
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF RONALD CARL LEVI
Pearl and Morris Levi gave me life on April 15, 1942 in Fresno, California, where I grew up and went through elementary and high schools. I married Dianne Kious in 1963 and we had one daughter, Alisa Jean, that same year. I attended the University of California in Berkeley where I graduated in 1965. I moved to New York City in 1969 and have lived there for twenty years. My ifrst marriage ended and I married Antoinette Maranzino in 1980. We have two daughters. Nicole Rae Levi was born March 15, 1981 and Cheryl Rae Levi was born February 10, 1982. We currently reside in Staten Island, New York.
My first daughter lives in New Mexico with her mother who has remarried. My daughter now goes by the name of Alisa Jean Turtletaub.