HACKENSACK, N.J. — The family of Hackensack's Cecilia Levine is only now discovering the truth behind her great-uncle's 1944 death, thanks to a documentary being produced by Germans coming to terms with the Nazi era.
Samuel Joseph “George” Levine, a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, was shot by a rogue German farmer while on a World War II bombing mission.
Or so the story went.
For 59 years, Cecilia’s father — George Levine of West Hartford, Conn. — believed that version of events.
“We always knew he died in World War II,” Levine said, “but we didn’t really know any details.”
The lingering question was answered unexpectedly in May.
That’s when Levine received a call from an Ohio-based historian seeking the late Levine’s descendants.
Turned out, Samuel Joseph “George” Levine was killed by Nazis.
The true story came to light in a German documentary about Arthur Jetzinger, who had been carrying out Nazi orders — unbeknownst to his family members.
The film highlights the efforts of 85-year-old Leopold Jetzinger, Arthur’s nephew, to learn the truth about his ancestor.
Thanks to filmmaker Nils Werner and German historian Susanne Meinl, Jetzinger now knows his late uncle ordered three German police officers to kill American soldiers.
In violation of the laws of the Geneva Convention, officers Fritz Pohla, Jacob Kemf, and Ernst Vogler killed the Americans who had parachuted into a German field near Dessau.
Among them was Samuel Joseph “George” Levine, who was murdered by Kemf.
A ceremony honoring Levine and the two other victims will be held at the site of the killing in Kleinzerbst, Germany in November.
That the truth finally has come to light is comforting for Levine, who was “pleasantly surprised” by Werner and Meinl’s hard work.
But Levine also wants the world to understand that the German practice of airmen lynching, while a sad chapter at the end of World War II, did occur and caused significant pain.
He also wants an official apology from the German government.
“That would be a good start,” Levine said.
What drives Levine is the pain the death caused his late father, Theodore Levine, who, along with his siblings, Max and Esther, lost their brother far too young. He also thinks of the anguish of his grandmother, Ida Levine, who lost her son.
Eventually, Levine hopes to have the documentary dubbed in English and shown in Jewish film festivals across the U.S. to showcase how the soul-searching Germans of today are coming to terms with their country’s past.
“The lessons there are that sometimes it takes a long time to learn the truth,” Levine said, “and that sometimes what one believes is a private, painful issue is often being experienced by others.
“Forgiveness, kindness and patience are all healers.”
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