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
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,
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
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 Jewish state.
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
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.
The Exodus, once a Chesapeake
Bay steamer, is shown in 1947 in
Italy being outfitted for its trip to
Palestine. (Columbia University)