|Businessman Louis 'Shorty' Levin; Sold
Ship That Became 'Exodus'
Louis S. Shorty Levin, 90, a Washington businessman who had an unexpected
brush with history in the 1940s, when a ship he once owned became a symbol of
the movement to create an independent Jewish state, died Feb. 10, 2006 of an
intestinal disorder at a hospital in Aventura, Fla. His primary residence was in
Bethesda, and he had a winter home in Aventura.
Mr. Levin, whose name was accented on the second syllable, was a Washington
native who embarked on several failed business ventures before he launched the
Potomac Shipwrecking Co. with his brother in the 1940s. They bought aging,
out-of-service ships, dismantled them at a shipyard in Pope's Creek, near Waldorf,
and sold the scrap metal
The Exodus, once a Chesapeake Bay
steamer, is shown in 1947 in Italy being
outfitted for its trip to Palestine.
In the fall of 1946, Mr. Levin was put in touch with the Chinese-American Industrial
Co., a New York consortium seeking to rebuild one of his ships for cargo transport
in Asia. He sold the firm a rusting excursion boat called the President Warfield,
which had plied the waters between Baltimore and Norfolk, for $10,000.
Mr. Levin didn't see the President Warfield again until the following summer, when it appeared in the news under a different
name, trying to break the British blockade of Palestine, then under British jurisdiction. The Chinese-American organization
turned out to be a front for the Haganah, an underground Jewish paramilitary group fighting for the creation of Israel.
The 320-foot President Warfield, launched in 1928, was secretly outfitted with hundreds of bunks and supplies in Baltimore and
sailed from Marseille, France, on July 11, 1947. Originally designed to hold 400 passengers, the renamed Exodus carried 4,554
Jewish survivors of Nazi concentration camps toward what they hoped would be a new home in Palestine.
Shortly before it was to enter the port of Haifa, British navy vessels rammed the Exodus at sea. During the resulting shipboard
riot, in which passengers and crew defended themselves with cans of soup and potatoes, British sailors killed two passengers
and an American crew member.
When the Exodus finally docked in Haifa, the Jewish refugees were denied entry by British authorities.
The lone American journalist to board the Exodus, Ruth Gruber, described it as a black, shabby, broken steamer . . . The ship
looked like a matchbox that had been splintered by a nutcracker. In the torn square hole . . . we could see a muddle of beding,
possessions, plumbing, broken pipes, overflowing toilets, half-naked men, women looking for children.
The refugees were placed on three squalid transport ships that took them back to France. After three weeks, when they refused
to disembark, they were sent to detention camps in Germany -- an act of such symbolic cruelty that it provoked international
outrage. The Exodus was still in the Haifa harbor on Nov. 28, 1947, when the United Nations voted to establish an independent
Many survivors escaped the German camps and eventually made their way to Israel or the United States. Their plight was
described in Leon Uris's novel Exodus" and in a 1960 film directed by Otto Preminger. The Exodus became known as the
Mayflower of the Middle East and the ship that launched a nation.
Mr. Levin, who grew up on 4 1/2 St. SW, was called Shorty by everyone, including his mother. His middle initial, like Harry
Truman's, stood for nothing.
If it's good enough for Harry, he said, it's good enough for me.
He graduated from Central High School and, despite being only 5 feet 7 1/2 inches tall, played center on semiprofessional
basketball teams. He served in the Navy during World War II.
After he left the shipwrecking business in the mid-1950s, Mr. Levin owned Pleasant Liquors in Seat Pleasant until 1979. He was
a founder of the Prince George's Liquor Association.
Since the 1950s, he was also involved in real estate, eventually becoming vice president of Westwood Management Corp. in
Bethesda. His company constructed and managed buildings in Maryland, Virginia, the District and elsewhere. He retired in 1995.
His pastimes included tennis and fishing. Mr. Levin supported Jewish causes and visited Israel but never met anyone who had
been a passenger aboard the Exodus.
Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Eveyln Levin of Bethesda and Aventura; two children, Monica Pollans of Fort Lauderdale,
Fla., and Dr. Jon Levin of Port Charlotte, Fla.; three sisters, Dora Fox of Kansas City, Kan., Zelda Gallun of Silver Spring and Leah
McNair of Woodland Hills, Calif.; a brother, Dr. Sidney Levin of Jacksonville, Fla.; eight grandchildren; and a great-grandson.