Books by Hillel Levine

Released: Nov. 4, 1996

Levine (coathor, The Death of an American Jewish Community, 1992; Sociology and Religion/Boston Univ.) seeks to discover a seemingly ordinary man, the extraordinary thing he did, and the lessons to be learned. Raoul Wallenberg, Oscar Schindler, and others have been justly celebrated as selfless gentile saviors of countless Jews during the Holocaust. In recent years, the name of the elusive Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara (a.k.a. ``Sempo Sugiwara'' and ``Sergi Pavelovitch'') has been added to that remarkable roll. Sugihara's widow and son have reported that he rescued 6,000 Jews from certain slaughter. Levine sets the figure at 10,000. No matter. After two generations, numbers go only so far. As one of ``Sugihara's Jews,'' displaying family photos, told the author, ``I am thirty-seven people!'' The rescue operation took place over a few summer days in 1940 in the Lithuanian town of Kovno. There, against all the strictures of his government and of diplomatic convention, the courtly, mysterious Sugihara issued transit visas to anyone who asked. The US consulate and that of Great Britain found reasons not to help the fugitives caught between the Nazis to the west and the Soviets to the east. Only the Dutch were cooperative. On the basis of considerable research, including interviews with survivors, friends, and relatives, official records, and Sugihara's scant memoirs, Levine presents the available facts along with much supposition and tangled, peripheral history. Why did this singular civil servant come to perform an act so selfless as to assure his place in history? Was it a conspiracy of altruism or simply the banality of goodness, as Levine puts it? The question, always worth asking, is unanswerable. Despite an occasional lack of discipline in Levine's telling (including abrupt, inexplicable switches of tense from past to present and back again), Sugihara's story is ultimately a fascinating addition to Holocaust literature and a valuable historical footnote. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 6, 1992

A metaphor for America's urban tragedy as told in the dramatic story of old Jewish Boston's swift and cruel demise. According to Levine (Sociology and Religion/Boston Univ.) and Harmon (ed., Brookline Citizen), idealistic advocates of racial integration and greedy real-estate kingpins conspired in the mid- 60's to target the Jewish inner-city enclaves of Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury for a massive infusion of poor blacks. Working-class areas like ``Southie'' (the Irish neighborhood) and the North End (Boston's Italian stronghold), the authors say, were spared from the carrots of mortgage manna (e.g., banks conspiring to offer Dorchester mortgages easily, and only, to blacks) and the sticks of violent blockbusting techniques (including synagogue burnings) because it was known that these minorities would rather fight than take flight. Levine and Harmon are sympathetic to the goals of racial integration but are indignant over the brutality and unfairness that accompanied these orchestrations. Bankers and politicians are indicted here by elaborate court evidence and by supplementary research cited by the authors, who use their insiders' passion (Harmon was born and raised in Dorchester) and professional expertise to forever preserve the corned-beef flavor of old Blue Hill Avenue. As much an elegiac memory book of old Jewish Boston as a searing indictment against her killers. Read full book review >