Packed house at TBE celebrates 'Evitchka' book release

By Carl Zebrowski

You could judge from the crowd at Temple Beth El on the morning of Yom HaShoah the esteem the Lehigh Valley Jewish community has for Larry and Eva z”l Levitt. All these people had turned out to celebrate the release of the book that tells Eva’s story of Holocaust survival and devoting herself to living by Jewish values. 

Written by Larry Levitt and Stephanie Smartschan, “Evitchka: A True Story of Survival, Hope, and Love,” took more than two year to create, with participation by Eva before she died in 2023. The capacity crowd in TBE’s auditorium included friends and relatives of the Levitts, members of the community, and representatives of the book’s publisher. “We feel especially lucky to have the full family here,” said Jeri Zimmerman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley.

The idea to bring Stephanie into the book project was Eva’s, Larry said, adding, “Eva never made a mistake about people.” The three met once a week to work together. Stephanie did a lot of research and talked to a lot people, particularly because Eva was so young in the early 1940s and wouldn’t know details.

Once the manuscript was complete, Larry and Stephanie presented it to Crave, a small publisher in Leesport that a friend had recommended. “I reviewed it initially when it came in,” copublisher Christina Steffy said after the presentation, “and it was a very powerful story about this incredible woman. I got the impression from reading it that she was very kind, very humble. She was certainly in the background of everybody else’s story, didn’t seem like someone who would tell her own story.

“But it was something that very much needs to be told, and Larry and Stephanie decided to bring her story forward and show that this amazing woman just supported everybody. And so it was wonderful to get to be the publisher.”

Dr. John Castaldo, Larry’s friend of nearly 40 years, who joined Larry’s neurology practice in 1986, was with his wife, Karen, among the nearly 200 in attendance to celebrate the book and Eva’s life. “This book was his labor of love,” he said. “I knew all these stories because Larry had told them to me, so it was nice to see them come into print, and I hope others will appreciate them as well.”

Karen brought up a time their daughter went over to Larry and Eva’s house to interview Eva’s dad, Laci, a Nazi camp survivor who has a large part in the book, to write a paper for school.

“He actually told all of these stories of the Holocaust,” Castaldo said. “It was just heart-wrenching because to hear it from someone who lived it was so much different than to read about it from a history. He was telling it in the ‘I form’: ‘I did this.’”

“Evitchka” is available now from The End bookstore in Allentown and other small shops as well as from the usual large book outlets.