Reprinted from the February 10, 2010, issue of the WW-P News
Jasha Levi, 'Exile,' Shares His Story
by Cara Latham
A journalist, soldier, architect, and foundation director are just some of the items on Jasha Levi’s resume.
The former Plainsboro resident, who turned 88 in October, can now add author to the list. Levi’s new book — “The Last Exile: The Tapestry of a Life” — highlights his life’s work. It’s a finely textured story, a journey through the University of Belgrade student protest in pre-war Yugoslavia, to World War II confinement in Italy under Mussolini, to fighting German troops in Dalmatia in the 1940s, battling Soviet attempts to dominate Yugoslavia, reporting from the world and the UN, and finally taking asylum in America in despair over his country ever becoming a democracy.
Levi remembers the relatives who surrounded him when he was young: some who jumped off the roof rather than be killed by Nazis; others murdered in Nazi trucks equipped with gas, designed to make Belgrade the first Jew-free city in Europe — a rehearsal of what was to come.
Levi will discuss and sign copies of his book on Saturday, February 13, at 3 p.m. at the West Windsor branch of the Mercer County Library. The event is just one on his list of speaking engagements in the coming months, including at 7:30 p.m. at the Cranbury Brook Book Club in Plainsboro on Monday, February 22, at 7:30 p.m. and at the Princeton Windrows on Sunday, March 31, at 3 p.m.
The book’s title is a reflection of Levi’s many experiences. “Both my ancestors and myself have gone through a lot of mostly involuntary exiles,” he said.
Levi was born in Sarajevo in 1921, where he lived until World War II. Writing runs in the family for Levi, whose father was a newspaperman, having started his own paper in Sarajevo.
Levi’s path began with his involvement in the University of Belgrade student protests in pre-war Yugoslavia. Because of the war and because of his Jewish background, Levi left home and went to Dalmatia. “From there, I was taken into confinement in Italy,” said Levi of his confinement by Mussolini’s fascists in Asolo, Italy. He spent three years there before going back to Yugoslavia in 1944, where he fought against the Nazis as a member of the First Armored Brigade in Dalmatia.
After the war, Levi became a newspaper correspondent, where he was the youngest reporter covering the 1946 Paris Peace Conference. He served as an editor for the Borba newspaper. He served as a correspondent in various countries throughout Europe and even covered the Korean Peace Talks in 1951 and the United Nations from 1953 through 1956.
“Eventually in 1956, when the Hungarian Revolution broke and my government wasn’t supporting it, I decided not to go back,” he said of his decision to flee to the United States “in despair” that Yugoslavia, his homeland, would never become a Democratic nation.
Since moving to New York in 1956, where he first settled in Queens, he has served as the associate director for the Association for the Blind and later as the executive director of In Touch Networks, a company that provides reading service for people who are blind, visually impaired, and physically disabled.
Levi’s wife, Slava, died in 1986. Three years later he met his current partner, Mary Hunsicker, a woman who was volunteering for him. They moved to Plainsboro so she could be closer to her granddaughters. The couple remained in Plainsboro for 20 years before recently moving to an adult community in Hightstown.
Levi focused on writing his memoirs from 2003 to 2009, even though he had been writing bits and pieces of it over 20 years. “I’ve been a newspaper man for the first half of my life,” he said. “It’s totally different writing a book than writing articles.”
The book is available from BookSurge Publishing www.booksurge.com) or on Amazon.com. To find out more about the book, visit Levi’s website at www.thelastexilebook.com.