Winnipeg family has Jewish connections

Updated: August 12, 2023, 9:25 A.M.

Winnipeg, Manitoba

D’Est en Est

by Joëlle N. Lasserre

Levy Abad

Browsing the internet for the book D’Est en Est (From East to East) by Joëlle N. Lasserre, my daughter became curious and asked, who is Joëlle? I explained that Joëlle is her grandaunt who wrote the book about the migration of two Jewish families from Alsace to the Philippines. The last name of the two families was Levy. For brevity, I’ll refer to them as Levy from Marckolsheim and Levy from Mutzig. Levy from Marckolsheim had Adolphe Blum Levy, Charles Blum Levy and Raphael Blum Levy. The famous Philippine actor regarded as the Queen of Philippine Movies, the late Jesusa Levy Sonora or Susan Roces, was a descendant of the Levy from Marckolsheim. Susan was a great-granddaughter of Adolphe Blum Levy and Benita Enriquez. The other Adolphe- Adolphe Hirsch Levy of Mutzig married Eve, the youngest sister of Adolphe Blum Levy. Adolphe of Mutzig had seven siblings, the youngest was Fernand Fiestel Levy (Source: Fernand was the ascendant of Alfonso from whom the Levy’s of Bacolod would come from. Both families started their business activities in Iloilo, Philippines (Source: The First Jews in the Philippines by Levy Abad The First Jews in the Philippines – Filipino Journal).

Connecting the narrative

Seeing the D’ Est en Est prompted me to email Joëlle to congratulate her on publishing the book connecting the narrative about the brothers Adolphe, Charles, and Raphael’s journey because of the Franco-Prussian War from Alsace to the Philippines where they established their first successful business La Estrella del Norte in the 1870s (Source: Escape to Manila: From Nazi Tyranny to Japanese Terror by Frank Ephraim). The Levy’s in the Philippines is grateful to the author for sending them a picture of Adolphe Blum Levy, the father of Francisco Levy, and the grandfather of Susan Roces. To get more information about her newly published book D’Est en Est, I asked Joëlle If I can interview her for an article to which she generously agreed.

A picture in Toulouse

Who and what inspired you to write the book?

Actually, I knew some elements of this story. Still, after my father Maurice’s passing and sorting out papers and photographs, I came across again a picture that served as an inspiration for the painting of the cover. I saw that picture for the first time at my grandmother’s house in Toulouse and found the children’s hats fairly amusing and asked my father who they were. He said, “My father, your uncle, and me. But my father (Albert) died a few weeks after the picture was taken. He was born in Iloilo.” Then he started to explain this complicated family, but I was seven and lost interest. I remember that there is a word in French for ” funny” which is “rigolo” and which I immediately associated with Iloilo.

Occasionally, I met members of the family (old aunts) and my father would say that she was born in the Philippines. There is also a picture of my father’s grandmother who died of cholera in the Philippines, a few months after my grandfather’s birth. I thought that all these accounts were precious and that it would be a pity to be lost forever. Later, surfing the internet I found a picture of the tombstone of Adolphe Blum Levy in the Philippines, which led me eventually to Rose Levy and you (Levy Abad). This allowed me to get in touch with Robert Levy-Hermanos who gave me access to his father’s memoirs retracing the story of the family.

Maxime Levy’s memoir

Can you explain more about the book for the benefit of our English reading relations and friends?

The book, which was based on Maxime Levy’s memoir. Maxime is a descendant of Raphael Blum Levy. Her memoir describes the origin of the family in Alsace, how they lived there since the 17th century, how they fled the Franco-Prussian war in the 1870s, and eventually arrived in the Philippines. It also explains the development of their firm La Estrella del Norte in the Philippines and beyond, from being next to nothing to becoming a prosperous international group. But more than anything else, it shows the determination, courage, tenacity, and solidarity of these very daring young men. 

It is worth noting that some of the important information shared by Joëlle was also quoted by a Filipino vlogger known as Mighty Magulang on her vlog about Adolphe Levy in 2022.

Are there old pictures/ mementos that you included in the book?

At the end of the book, there are genealogical markers to summarize who is who and with pictures when available.

Levy of Marckolsheim and Mutzig

Did you include an account of the connection between the two Levy in the Philippines from Marckolsheim and Mutzig? 

There is a brief mention of Levy in the Philippines. This is the case for many people who are not major characters in the development of La Estrella del Norte.

Are there accounts of the spread of the family in other areas too?

There are also brief mentions of those who returned to France, where they settled, and the children born to those who had older brothers and sisters born in the Philippines.

Did you use both genealogical records and oral narratives in your approach to writing?

All the genealogical data in the book have been thoroughly checked, I also used copies of press cuttings gracefully provided by Robert Levy Hermanos.

Going forward

Will there be an English version of the book in the near future? 

No immediate plans for an English version (very costly and my English is not good enough), but I’ll have to discuss this along with an electronic format with my editor.

Merci beaucoup Joëlle for granting my interview. Your effort in writing about the ventures and struggles of the Levy’s who migrated to the Philippines is like La Estrella del Norte, a guiding star for the Marckolsheim and Mutzig branches, which they can always look up to, to find their bearings in the diaspora. Please check out the D’Est en Est on Amazon, available in Kindle and paperback editions. As the saying goes and as a reminder of the experience of living in exile, “L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim” (next year in Jerusalem).

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