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Lewis J. Hartstein, 90, World War II Activist and Later, a Deli Operator

June 18, 2009
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Lewis J. Hartstein

Lewis Joseph Hartstein, 90, died May 29. He was a resident of Devon.

Hartstein grew up in Czechoslovakia, graduating from the Hebrew Gymnasium that his parents helped establish under Czech minority-rights laws in the city of Munkacs/Mukacevo.

He dreamed of making aliyah and joined Hashomer Hazair to prepare for life as a pioneer in a free Jewish state. Recognizing that an independent nation on the Mediterranean would need a navy, he sought admission and was accepted into the Italian Naval Academy at Civitavecchia. He opposed Mussolini's war in Abyssinia and chose instead to study chemical engineering in Prague. He began his university studies in 1938, the year of the Munich Pact.

Hartstein redoubled his efforts to reach Palestine, but the transport of some 1,500 immigrants, which the Nazis were said to have approved, was cancelled at the last minute, and he went into hiding.

He made his way from Prague to London in August 1939. The train taking him through Germany to Holland was emptied of all Jews at the Dutch border, but he had taken care to travel with no baggage, no money and no valuables, so he did not appear to be a refugee. Once safe in England, he volunteered for combat with the British Army. He was recruited for Special Forces to serve behind enemy lines, changing his name to Hill to protect his family in case he were captured.

His knowledge of Central Europe helped him identify a potential Nazi collaborator in a team about to be sent to Yugoslavia, and the mission was aborted.

After the war, Hartstein chose to come to the United States -- to Philadelphia, where his surviving sister, Gabriella Hartstein Auspitz, lived with her husband and their children.

He changed his legal name back to Hartstein and became the business partner of Harry Auspitz in Famous Delicatessen Stores, a decentralized family business with stores in several sections of Greater Philadelphia and Camden, N.J.

Hartstein was responsible at various times for the stores on City Line and Kennedy Boulevard, as well as the founding store of the chain that Harry Auspitz had established in 1921 at Marshall and Poplar streets, off Girard Avenue.

In addition to his sister, Hartstein is survived by his wife, Evangeline Payne Hartstein; daughters Rachel Hartstein and Melissa Hartstein Prince; two grandchildren; and three nephews.

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