By Padraig Yeates
Maurice Levitas (Moishe ben Hillel), one of the last surviving Irish veterans of the Spanish Civil War, died on Wednesday in London.
There are now only three Irish survivors from the International Brigade, which
fought in Spain between 1936 and 1939 in defence of the Spanish republic.
They are Mr. Michael O'Riordan, former general secretary of the Communist Party
of Ireland, and Mr. Eugene Downing, who wrote the only memoir in Irish of the
war. Both men live in Dublin. Mr. Bob Doyle, a former member of the Communist
Party and union activist, now lives in London.
Mr. Levitas was born on February 1st, 1917, in
Portobello, Dublin, then known as 'Little Jerusalem'.
He was the son of Harry Levitas from Lithuania and Leah
Rick from Latvia. His father was active in the International Tailors',
Machinists' and Pressers' Trade Union, then known in Dublin as "the Jewish
Union". The family emigrated to Britain in 1927 where Maurice became a
plumber and subsequently a teacher.
A lifelong communist as well as a trade unionist, he participated in the
"Battle of Cable Street" in October 1936 when the British Union of
Fascists was prevented from marching through the Jewish neighbourhoods of
London's East End.
In December 1937 he volunteered for the International Brigade. He fought at
Teruel and Belchite on the Aragon front before being captured, together with the
Irish republican Frank Ryan, near the town of Gandesa in March 1938.
He was imprisoned for a year in the concentration camp of San Pedro de Cardea,
before being released as part of a prisoner exchange.
The Irish unit of the International Brigade was known as the Connolly Column
and, when a memorial to it was unveiled at Dublin's Liberty Hall in May 1991,
Maurice Levitas read the roll of honour of his fallen
He last visited his native city in February 1997 when, together with other
surviving brigade members, he was accorded a civic reception in the Mansion
House by the Lord Mayor.
Maurice Levitas is survived by his brothers, Max and Sol, his sister, Toby, and his children, Bill, Diana, Ruth, Danny, Rachel and Ben.
The funeral will take place on Friday at Golders Green crematorium, London. Kaddish will be said by his brothers
Connolly Column Veteran
La Quince Brigada Internacional
Spanish Anti-Fascist War
Moishe ben Hillel
Born Dublin, February 1, 1917
Died London, February 14, 2001
IRISH JEWISH INTERNATIONALIST
Golders Green Crematorium
February 23, 2001
ORDER OF SERVICE
The Service will be officiated by Cantor Adrian Harman
Introduction and Meditation: Adrian Harman
One wears his mind out in study, and yet has more mind with which to study.
One gives away his heart in love, and yet has more heart to give away. One
perishes out of pity for a suffering world, and is the stronger therefore. So,
too, it is possible at one and the same time to hold on to life and let it go
When we are dead, and people weep for us and grieve, let it be because we
touched their lives with beauty and simplicity. Let it not be said that life was
good to us, but, rather, that we were good to life.
Jacob P. Rudin
Psalm 23: A Psalm of David: Cantor Adrian Harman
The Lord is my shepherd
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear
For thou art with me; thy rod and staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Funeral Oration: Manus O’Riordan, Dublin
Music: Viva La Quince Brigada!
The Congregation will sing: Jarama
There’s a valley in Spain called Jarama.
It’s a place that we all know so well.
It was there that we gave of our manhood
And where most of our brave comrades fell.
We are proud of the British Battalion
And the stand for Madrid that it made,
For we fought like true sons of the people
As part of the 15th Brigade.
As part of the International Column
In the fight for the freedom of Spain,
We swore in that valley of Jarama
That fascism never should reign.
Now we’ve left that dark valley of sorrow
And its memories we ne’er shall forget,
So before we continue this reunion,
Let us stand for our glorious dead.
Bill Levitas will read from Ecclesiastes
Song: Rozhinkes mit Mandlen (Raisins and Almonds) Adrian Harman
Tribute: read on behalf of Toby Middleburgh
Memorial Prayer (Funeral Service, page 35): Cantor Adrian Harman
Tribute and Reading from Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan: Diana Levitas
Music: Guitar, Daniel Levitas
Ben Levitas will read from Maurice Levitas’s translation of Canto
General by Pablo Neruda
Ruth Levitas will read from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
The Congregation will sing: The Internationale
Arise ye starvelings from your slumbers,
Arise ye criminals of want,
For reason in revolt now thunders
And at last ends the age of cant.
Now away with all your superstitions,
Servile masses, arise, arise!
We’ll change forthwith the old conditions
And spurn the dust to win the prize.
Then – comrades come rally
And the last fight let us face,
Unites the human race. (Repeat)
We peasants, artisans and others;
Enrolled among the sons of toil,
Let’s claim the earth henceforth for brothers,
Drive the indolent from the soil.
On our flesh too long has fed the raven;
We’ve too long been the vulture’s prey.
But now, farewell the spirit craven,
The dawn brings in a brighter day.
Chorus: Then – comrades come rally etc.
No saviour from on high delivers;
No trust have we in prince or peer.
Our own right hand the chains must shiver;
Chains of hatred, of greed, and fear.
Ere the thieves will out with their booty
And to all give a happier lot.
Each at the forge must do his duty
And strike while the iron is hot.
Chorus: Then – comrades come rally etc.
And the last fight let us face,
Unites the human race. (Repeat)
Psalm 103 (Funeral Service, page 19, second part): Cantor Adrian Harman
Kaddish: Max Levitas and Sol Levitas
Music: Pablo Casals playing The Song of the Birds
[Thanks to Manus O'Riordan
for supplying this record of the funeral ceremony for Maurice. It does show his
political interests, even up to the last moment. CC, 28th April
Irish Times Obituary Saturday, February 24, 2001
Lifelong dedication to the fight against
MAURICE LEVITAS: Maurice 'Morry' Levitas, one of the last surviving Irish veterans who served with the International Brigade in the fight against Fascism in Spain, died on February 14th aged 84.
Eric Gordon in the Guardian
He was born on February 1st, 1917, in Dublin's Warren
Street, a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood of artisan housing in the
His parents, Harry Levitas from the Lithuanian shtetl
of Akmeyan and Leah Rick from the Latvian capital of Riga, had fled the
anti-Semitism of Tsarist Russia to join relatives already residing in Dublin.
It was to prove to be a life-saving choice for both of them. Leah Rick's sister and family, with the exception of a daughter who had emigrated to Palestine and a son in the Red Army, all perished
in Nazi gas chambers. Harry Levitas's sister and all her family were among those
herded into the local synagogue and burned to death, while a brother who had
emigrated to Paris was shot by the Gestapo in the closing stages of the war.
Such family experiences reconfirmed Maurice Levitas in his lifelong fight
He attended St Peter's Church of Ireland National
School as his father struggled to earn a living, sometimes dealing in scrap
metal, but more often as a tailor's presser.
His father and two uncles were active in the
International Tailors', Pressers' and Machinists' Trade Union, known to
Dubliners as 'the Jewish Union'.
These childhood years were marked by poverty as well as
personal tragedy when Maurice Levitas's year-old brother, Isaac, died in March
Economic circumstances forced the Levitas family to
emigrate to Glasgow in 1927 and to the East End of London in 1931. Maurice
Levitas began employment in a series of upholstery shops, but soon began working on building sites, first as a labourer and subsequently as a plumber.
His political consciousness had already been awakened
during his childhood in Dublin by his father, who was a communist supporter.
Maurice Levitas joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1933. As
secretary of the Young Communist League's Bethnal Green Branch he was to the
forefront in the struggle against the British Union of Fascists, most notably in October 1936 at the legendary "Battle of Cable Street".
In December 1937, Maurice Levitas enlisted in the
International Brigade to fight against Fascism in Spain. During January and
February 1938 he was in action at Belchite and Teruel on the Aragon front.
On March 31st he was captured by Italian Fascist troops
near the town of Gandesa, along with Irish Republican Congress leader Frank
Ryan. He spent the next nine months imprisoned in the Spanish concentration camp at San Pedro de Cardeña, subject to arbitrary beatings from camp guards and interrogation and "scientific" measurements carried out by visiting German Gestapo agents.
On January 6th, 1939, he was transferred to San
Sebastian prison, with its own horrific environment of systematic executions of
Basque prisoners. He was released on February 6th as part of a prisoner exchange sought by Mussolini.
One of his first acts after his release was to visit
Dublin on February 27th to speak at a public meeting calling for the release of
In 1942, Maurice Levitas enlisted in the Royal Army
Medical Corps and served in India and Burma. In 1948, having resumed employment
as a plumber, he was offered a place in an emergency Teachers' Training College.
After qualifying, he spent from 1949 to 1966 teaching in secondary modern
schools in the London area. During this period he also became secretary of the
Communist Party's Hammersmith branch. He obtained an honours B. Sc. in sociology as an external student of London University and was appointed senior lecturer in the sociology of education at Durham College in 1966. His book, Marxist Perspectives in the Sociology of Education, was published in 1974.
Following his retirement, Maurice Levitas emigrated to
East Germany in 1985 where he taught English at the Karl Liebknecht Hochschule
in Potsdam. He also renewed friendships with the few surviving German
anti-Fascist fighters with whom he had shared imprisonment in San Pedro.
He returned to London in 1990 and joined the new
Communist Party. Ever loyal to those who had also committed themselves to the
anti-Fascist struggle in the decade prior to the second World War, he denounced
the prosecution and imprisonment in Berlin of the former East German president,
Erich Honecker. He highlighted Honecker's 10 years of imprisonment by the Nazis
and tirelessly worked at editing and translating Erich Honecker Cross Examined
On May 4th, 1991, he was chosen by his fellow veterans
to read out the roll of honour of those Irishmen who had sacrificed their lives
in defence of the Spanish Republic, on the occasion of the unveiling of the
Liberty Hall plaque in their memory by the Lord Mayor of Dublin. He again
returned to Liberty Hall on May 12th, 1996, for the unveiling of the James
Connolly statue by the then President, Mrs Mary Robinson.
Maurice Levitas paid his last visit to Spain in
November 1996 to receive the right to citizenship conferred on all International Brigade veterans by unanimous decision of the Spanish parliament. This he regarded as the ultimate vindication by the Spanish people of his fight against Fascism 60 years previously.
The vindication of his native city followed in the wake
of his 80th birthday, when he visited the Mansion House on February 14th, 1997,
and was accorded a civic reception by the Lord Mayor and Dublin City Council in
honour of the five surviving Irish veterans.
Maurice Levitas is survived by four children from his
first marriage to the late Liz Scott - Bill, Diana, Ruth and Danny; and by two
children, Rachel and Ben, from his second marriage to Jackie Litherland.
Maurice Moishe ben Hillel Levitas: born 1917; died,
Wednesday March 7, 2001
Maurice 'Morry' Levitas, who has died aged 84, faced death at the
hands of fascists during the Spanish civil war, wrote the much-translated
Marxist Perspectives In The Sociology Of Education (1974), and, in the early
1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, edited and translated the views of the
longtime East German leader Erich Honnecker.
A member of the Communist party of Great Britain and an
International Brigades volunteer, Morry was captured by General Franco's army in
1938, and, at one point, was marched off with his fellow prisoners to dig their
own graves. By some quirk of fate, the guards changed their minds, after which
Morry spent a year in one of Franco's prison camps, often beaten and subjected
to "scientific" measurements by visiting Nazis testing their
"theories" about the shape and size of Jewish skulls. He was released
in March 1939.
Morry's parents had fled to Dublin from tsarist pogroms in Lithuania and Latvia
at the turn of the last century. His father and uncles became active in a
tailors' union, known locally as the Jewish union. With his three brothers and
sister, he absorbed socialism and a love of Jewish culture and Yiddish, an
eclectic brew that gave him a passion for learning and argument - and a large
repertoire of Yiddish songs. Proud of his heritage, he later wrote articles
under his Hebrew patronymic, Moishe ben Hillel.
Unemployment in the late-1920s forced the Levitas family to Glasgow and then to
London's East End, where Morry found work on building sites and joined the
Communist party. He took part in the 1936 battle of Cable Street, which checked
the British Union of Fascists' East End march.
After wartime service in India and Burma with the Royal Army Medical Corps, he
worked as a plumber and then trained as a teacher. He taught in London secondary modern schools from 1949 to 1963, using drama to get through to difficult pupils; some, in Ladbroke Grove, were coached to produce stirring productions of St Joan and The Merchant Of Venice.
As an external London University student, Morry later graduated with an honours
degree in sociology and, in 1964, became a senior lecturer in the sociology of
education at Durham University. Marxist Perspectives In The Sociology Of
Education followed; Morry's history, early poverty and Jewish upbringing made it
a book from the heart as well as the head.
Although he opposed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Morry
remained an unwavering Communist party member, and, at one stage, was secretary of the Hammersmith party branch. An old-style soap-box orator, he would have audiences hanging on his words within moments of beginning to speak in public.
After retirement from university, he taught English in an East German school,
returning to London after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was never afraid to go
out on a limb - which helped explain his last book, Erich Honnecker Cross-
Even in his late 70s, Morry could often be seen on de- monstrations,
particularly those against racial injustice. In the 1990s, as an old brigader,
he was awarded Spanish citizenship and, with other surviving Irish veterans of
the International Brigades, he was given a civic reception by the Lord Mayor of
He is survived by two brothers, a sister, four children from his marriage to the
late Liz Scott, and two children from his second marriage, to Jackie Litherland.
Maurice Levitas (Moishe ben Hillel), teacher and Spanish civil war veteran, born
February 1 1917; died February 14 2001.
Additional material by Manus O'Riordan, 1987.
Maurice Levitas was born in February 1917 in the South Circular Road
Portobello area of Dublin City where he spent the first ten years of his life
and was educated at St Peter’s Church of Ireland National School. He emigrated
with his family to Glasgow in 1927 and subsequently to London in 1931. He joined
the Young Communist League in 1933 and became Secretary of its Bethnal Green
Branch. (In the same year he also became a member of the Communist Party of
Great Britain itself.) Having combated Mosley’s Blackshirts during those years
(when they were forced by mass action to retreat from their anti—Semitic
marches through the East End of London), Maurice Levitas went on to fight in the
Spanish Anti-Fascist War. He was a member of the Fifteenth International
Brigade, which he had joined in 1937. Having fought on the Gandesa front he was
captured by Italian fascists in March 1938 and sent to the fascist prison camp
of San Pedro de Cardena. He was not released until February 1939.
During World War II Maurice Levitas served in India and Burma
with the Royal Army Medical Corps of which he was a member from 1942-47.
Following his return from Burma he worked for about a year and a half at his old
trade, a plumber, and was then offered a place in an emergency Teachers’
Training College in September 1948. From 1949-66 he taught in secondary modern
schools in Kensington, Southwark and Lincolnshire. During this period he also
became Secretary of the Hammersmith Branch of the Communist Party of Great
As an external student of London University Maurice Levitas
took an honours B.Sc. degree in Sociology in 1958. From 1966 he taught at
Neville’s Cross College, Durham where he became Senior Lecturer in the
Sociology of Education. Following his retirement from full—time employment in
Britain, Maurice Levitas emigrated to the German Democratic Republic in 1985,
where he now teaches English at the Padagogische Hochschule Karl Liebknecht in
Potsdam. Maurice Levitas is author of Marxist Perspectives in the Sociology
of Education (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1974).
His father, Harry Levitas, had been born in 1890 in Kovno,
Lithuania where he grew up to become active in the Poale Zion (Workers of Zion)
Party. Fleeing the anti—Semitism of Tsarist, he emigrated to Ireland in 1912
and he settled in the South Circular Road Portobello area of Dublin City. It was
there that he became active in the International Tailors, Machinists and
Pressers’ Trade Union.