VALE - JASHA LEVI
Journalist, radio commentator, writer and lecturer,
reporter from the UN and to the world,
activist, author and top bloke
Born: Sarajevo, Bosnia
G'day folks ,
A man whom I considered to be a great friend and fellow IndiePENdents warrior, has sadly passed away – Jasha Levi. Here is a summation of his life in his own words.
‘Born Jewish in 1921 in Sarajevo, I felt the ripples of Hitler's rise to power in Europe, took part in student demonstrations which overthrew the pro-Nazi Belgrade government in 1941, escaped capture by the German Quislings, and became a rubric in the Geneva Convention as Civilian Internee of War in Asolo, Italy. There I taught school to refugee children and took them to matriculate at the Venice Ghetto schools. After the fall of Mussolini in 1943, I fled again from invading German troops and lived underground in Rome until in June 1944 General Clark liberated it. Back in Dalmatia, on the Adriatic Coast of Yugoslavia, I fought against the German troops until the end of war in Europe.
As a barely 24-year old Yugoslav newsman, I covered the Paris Peace Conference in 1946. In 1948, I was editor of the center spread of the government daily Borba in Belgrade, dedicated to the Tito-Stalin rift. We had standing orders to report to our stations in the mountains should the Soviets invade Yugoslavia, but they didn't and life continued normally. In 1951 I reported from the Korean Peace Talks in Panmunjom and in 1953 got a permanent assignment to the UN and the White House. By that time I had four books on foreign policy published in Serbo-Croatian.
In November 1956 I sought asylum in New York in protest over Tito's refusal to support the Hungarian Revolution in the Security Council, presided at the time by the Yugoslav Ambassador. I got my five minutes of fame in The New York Times front-page article and went on to make it in New York, starting as an electrician helper on a Wall Street brokerage construction, a draftsman for the renovation of a steakhouse and a hotel in Manhattan, freelancer for PARADE and The New Republic, toy salesman at Saks Fifth Avenue and finally as an embosser at the lowest rung of Recording for the Blind (RFB).
Later, as RFB's Associate Director, I introduced raised line drawings to accompany recorded text books and developed a 4-track, half speed system for economical cassette recording used also by the Library of Congress for the next 25 years, when wireless digital recording took over. After retiring, I took to gardening, lecturing and writing about life in the turbulence of the 20th Century.’
“People who have lived their lives in freedom in this country have no idea what it means to be uprooted,” he said. "Your life stops, and suddenly you are nobody.” – Jasha Levi
Some of the many professions he has held include war engineer, journalist, electrician, draftsman, and toy seller at Saks Fifth Avenue. He eventually went on to become the associate director of Recording for the Blind, Inc., and the executive director of In Touch Networks, Inc.
Over the last few years he has added author to his long list of accomplishments, writing books which reflect on his life experiences, in particular the history of the Holocaust.
Jasha said it wasn’t until he began writing his memoir and his editor began asking him more details about his life that he realized he was part of a major occurrence in history.
“The fact that six million Jews died in the Holocaust, but I survived ... I never really thought about that, that I was truly a part of that historical event,” he said, noting that he spent much of his life in denial.
Jasha Levi is the author of “Requiem for a Country,” “Blood Without Honey,” and “The Last Exile: The Tapestry of a Life.”
‘The Last Exile’ - review:
“The road from Sarajevo in 1921 to New York in 1956 and up to the present covers a distance. It was a particularly winding and long one for the author, from the student protests against pro-Nazi government in pre-war Yugoslavia, WWII civilian confinement in Italy under Mussolini, fighting against German troops and Quislings in Dalmatia in 1944-45, battling Soviet attempts to dominate Yugoslavia, reporting from the world and the UN, and finally taking asylum in the US in despair over his country ever becoming a democratic one. In The Last Exile, Jasha Levi opens himself and the mosaic of his turbulent life and times to the public scrutiny. His readers should find his memories compelling. “
All independent authors should visit this site which was co-founded by Jasha.
MY INTERVIEW WITH JASHA
Hereunder is the original interview I conducted with Jasha some time ago when he appeared as a guest on this blog.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I wrote love poems and newspaper articles before I wrote a few books on foreign affairs, but I was 89 before I published my non-fiction report on my life.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
When I discovered the love of words from listening to people talk and reading books from all over the world.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Being able to express my feelings, thoughts and concerns.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Becoming one and then staying true to the calling.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
Just a different kind of scribe.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
Breaking the “personal barrier” – becoming able to speak about my life from a perspective of time.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I just finished Blood Without Honey, a three part eBook on the Bosnian genocides. One part is my translation of the report written by my niece who survived the three year siege of Sarajevo
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Classic literary works I wish I had written.
WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
Non-fiction for public consumption, funny pieces for friends, great literature in imagination only. Can't tell a story I haven't lived or fictionalise the one I experienced
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
If it is in you, let it out. But don't forget to learn to write the best way you can. Read everybody else, but first master the classics both for their excellence as writers but also for their mastery of language.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
In my experience, deadlines have always cured me of it.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I used to get up early, when no one was around talking, and write in peace. Then I learned to simply ignore the din around me. Now my best times are somewhere between two and seven in the morning, when my ever more fleeting thoughts are undisturbed by extraneous din.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
Used to be anyplace with a pad and pencil. Now, it is at my computer. No more pretense of waiting for the muse to show up. They never do anymore.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
The final edit.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
The list is as long as literature itself. I've loved Greeks and the Russians, the French, Checks, Austrians, one Rumanian (Panaiot Istrati, a youthful fancy), great American depression writers, Yugoslav classics unfortunately not well known abroad, and one world famous Southerner at whose door I learned all I wanted to master in English: William Faulkner.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
I cherish but discount the comments by those who know me, because I think they factor in the friendship. The best is when I am told that someone enjoyed hearing me talk about my experiences.
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
I don't quote the dead. Seriously, nobody was rude enough to tell me.
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Theatre, classical music and classical jazz, folk music, visual arts.
DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Very much so. Wouldn't go out into the world unwashed.
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
When all goes well. After all, I took me 90 years to deserve that.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
Less than a year ago, I started The indiePENdents.org to fight for the place in the sun which is still denied independent writers. Its progress gives me great joy. I continue writing on a regular basis. Always have projects I start that need to be finished. Anything to postpone the inevitable. I've been in a hurry all my life; now I have all the time I want and I use it to the best of my abilities, which – I am glad to say – are still concentrated in my brain while somewhat AWOL from my legs.
Clancy’s comment: I feel sad, knowing that I will not be receiving any more humorous emails from Jasha who always called me 'mate'. He was a great activist for independent authors and a force to be reckoned with.
May he rest in peace.
Loved ya work, mate … loved ya work.