The framed map in Marcel Levi’s home is a testament to the strong friendship that developed after the war in Europe between two young men, survivors of Auschwitz, and American soldiers who were among the liberators of the Nazi concentration camps.
Marcel Levi was born in Thessalonica in 1925 to Yosef and Sol Levi. In 1933, his younger brother Edmond was born. In 1943, the Levi family was forced to move into the Baron Hirsch quarter of the city together with the rest of the local Jews. From there, they were deported to Auschwitz. At the end of the war, Marcel was left alone in the world; his parents and brother had been murdered at Auschwitz.
The 42nd Infantry “Rainbow” Division of the American Army was among the forces that liberated the camps. They were en route to Dachau when they came across Marcel Levi and his friend Josef Sal, also from Thessalonica. Marcel and Josef had been on a death march from Auschwitz to Dachau. Sidney Shafner, a Jewish American, was among the soldiers who found them; he recognized that Marcel was very ill and took the two young men under his wing. Marcel and Josef were attached to the division and accompanied it for three years, from 1945 until 1948. Marcel became assistant cook and a key figure in the mess room staff. Though a Ladino speaker, he had learned Yiddish in the camps in Poland, and his knowledge of Yiddish enabled him to mediate between the soldiers and the local German-speaking population.
The letter of commendation that the Infantry Commanding Captain wrote to the mess room staff and the orchestra after Christmas 1945 reveals the warm relationship that existed between the auxiliary staff and the soldiers of the division:
In behalf of all the Officers and Enlisted Men of Regimental Headquarters Company, I wish to express my deep appreciation for the magnificent Christmas Party enjoyed by all members of this Organization. In complete frankness I say that December 25th, 1945, will always be treasured as our most complete and memorable Christmas Holiday while in uniform. For the first time in many months, and undoubtedly for the first time while in the Army, everyone was completely at ease and enjoyed himself tremendously. Complete surprise was apparent among most of us, for few expected such a lavishly decorated Cafe, or such a superbly prepared dinner. Had we walked into the finest restaurant in America we could hardly have expected the tasty dishes and wonderful service given us through your untiring efforts.
Words cannot express our gratitude for the superior meal and the holiday atmosphere in which it was served, and speaking for all who attended, I wish to thank you for the wonderful Christmas Party.
At the bottom of the copy of the letter that was given to Marcel appears a personal message from the Quarter Master Sergeant:
To my very good friend and comrade Marcel Levi who aided me in making this party a complete success I express my sincere thanks, God bless you and best wishes from your friend forever.
Sgt Jon Fisher
When the division finished its tour of duty in the area, the soldiers proposed that Marcel accompany them to the United States. Marcel instead decided to adopt the suggestion of a relative in Eretz Israel (mandatory Palestine); following the establishment of the State, he immigrated to Israel.
Marcel donated a silver waistcoat, knitted by his mother Sol (an artist), to Yad Vashem. Before they were deported to Auschwitz, his mother had given a small suitcase to a non-Jewish neighbor for safekeeping. The suitcase contained a number of items; the silver waistcoat is the only one of those items to have survived.
Marcel also donated a copy of a humorous map showing the Rainbow Division’s battle trail through Europe. Marcel was given the map by the soldiers of the division and the map is covered in personal messages from them to him.