Angy Lebowitz, lifelong activist in the ‘good fight,’ to celebrate 100th birthday
Clockwise from top left: Angy Lebowitz reads a copy of the People's Weekly World in July 1995; Angy in a recent photograph; and U.S. Army First Lt. Angy Lebowitz during her service as a nurse in World War II. | People's World Archives

Angy Lebowitz, a life-long reader and supporter of People’s World and member of the Communist Party USA, will turn 100 years old on August 5th. To commemorate and express appreciation for her decades of support, we reprint materials below combined from two interviews with Angy that first appeared in our pages in 1995 and 2006. Angy was first interviewed about her time serving in the U.S. Army fighting fascism during World War II on the 50th anniversary of the war’s end. We spoke with her again in 1996 for a feature on “Worldbuilders,” distributors who helped get People’s World (which was then a print publication) into the hands of readers and raised funds to keep it going. Close personal friend Gabe Falsetta adds the following foreword to those original stories:

Thirteen years have passed since Angy Lebowitz was interviewed for the following article. Although Angy doesn’t remember much of her past activism any more, she does remember the songs. One thing Angy looks forward to every day is when her great niece, Anya, Skypes with her and they sing union songs together while Anya plays the banjo. This is a highlight of Angy’s day, especially since the senior program she usually participates in is unavailable at this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She has been in good hands though since she moved in with her niece, Ellen, in Teaneck, N.J.

One thing not mentioned in the original articles was the Communist Party Fair. Every year for many years, Angy and I were the designated booksellers. Picture thousands of books —most of which were political—covering many feet of the floor as we tried to make some order out of it all. The biggest distraction was reading whatever jumped out at us, and there was plenty of that. I think Angy and I tried our best not to read but rather to pay attention to the selling, but the reading always won out.

My wife Tina and I are hoping to spend the day celebrating our wonderful friend and comrade’s very, very special day. Happy 100th birthday Angy!

Angy’s niece, Ellen, has asked that anyone who has known Angy over the years to please send a birthday greeting for her 100th birthday this August 5th.

Please send greetings to:

New York Communist Party

235 West 23rd Street; 7th Floor

New York, NY 10011

NEW YORK—“I remember,” says Angy Lebowitz, “giving the paper out in Jamaica, Queens, when it was still the Daily Worker.” This was decades ago. Today, Lebowitz still distributes the People’s Weekly World every week like clockwork.

Lebowitz has a route around her neighborhood in Chelsea, Manhattan, where she drops papers off at local newsstands that sell the papers. The newsstands keep 50% of the proceeds and Angy takes 50%—which she either uses to buy more PWWs or donates to the newspaper’s Fund Drive.

But there’s more. “We do street distributions once a week,” Lebowitz says, noting that “sometimes it gets so unbearably hot, it’s hard.” She mentions this in an off-the-cuff way, without a hint of complaint. Complaints would be understandable though—Angy is now 87 years old.

“We always ask for money and have a can,” Lebowitz adds. The money is always enough that Lebowitz and her fellow distributors in Chelsea are able to pay for the PWWs that they sell, and, additionally, to buy extra to distribute for free. “People give us money, because they’re glad that we’ve stayed around all these years.”

Angy has led an eventful life. Her earliest memory was when she, as a toddler, discovered her mother’s suicide. The woman had taken her life over misplaced feelings of guilt: Angy’s sister, the first-born, was mentally handicapped. Angy’s mother went to heroic lengths to care for the child, but, after leaving for a moment to get a cup of sugar, Angy’s mother returned to find her first born, who had gotten too close to the stove, engulfed in flames.

Angy’s mother was traumatized, and “they didn’t have programs in those days to help.” Her suicide, says Lebowitz, “could have been prevented.”

Angy decided to spend her life helping others. After becoming a nurse, she worked at Bellevue Hospital, where, at the age of 19, she was in charge of a ward of 60 patients—in the infectious disease unit.

“I’ll never forget the patient that died on me,” Lebowitz recalls. “It was a Chinese man who didn’t speak English—all he did was look at me, that pathetic look saying ‘Help me.’ I’ll never forget that man.” Lebowitz condemns the efforts to curb multilingual care, noting how hard it was to help a desperate man simply because no one spoke his language.

In 1942, Lebowitz joined the U.S. Army, serving in the Army Nurse Corps, reaching the rank of First Liutenant. It was the horrors of fascism that had prompted her to enlist. “I read all the stories about the Holocaust, and how the government was turning away refugees from Eastern Europe—many of them died as a result—which was a terrible thing.”

Angy Lebowitz reading the “Stars and Stripes” army newspaper in Italy in 1945. | People’s World Archives

Her story—she served in North Africa and Italy—is the story of the many contradictions faced by Communists who had enlisted in the armed forces in order to fight fascism.

Her first assignment was to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, where she says, “We had a nice view of the Statue of Liberty and a Tom Collins only cost 50 cents at the officer’s club. But it didn’t seem like much of a contribution to the war effort.

Lebowitz demanded—the seldom asked, not even in the Army—an overseas assignment and was sent as a replacement to a station hospital and assigned to the communicable disease ward. “It was the least attractive job in the hospital, and I was the only Jew in the outfit,” she said, a trace of pain in her voice.

“The army, and especially the officer corps, was not the most tolerant institution in the world. But I was a Communist who had enlisted to fight fascism. If that’s what I had to do, that’s what I had to do.”

For Lebowitz, fascism was a personal thing: “Not only because I was a Jew, but because a guy named Louie Ladman from our neighborhood was killed in Spain while fighting with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.” She said that was a “defining moment for a high school kid.”

Lebowitz found military life “full of contradictions.” While in North Africa, many of her charges were GIs who had contracted venereal disease. “Enlisted men were court martialed before being sent to the hospital where they were treated as prisoners. Here I was, an officer in the U.S. Army sworn to obey orders and, at the same time, trained to be sympathetic and understanding of those in my care. That was a contradiction that I had to deal with on a very personal level.”

Her voice hardened as she spoke of another—the treatment of officers who contracted VD. “They were sent to an isolation ward, and nothing ever showed on their record. After all, they were ‘officers and gentlemen.’”

Once in Italy, Lebowitz’s outfit specialized in the treatment of facial wounds, which she described as the most horrifying wound anyone can suffer. “When a part of your face is blown away, a very real part of what is you goes with it,” she said, blinking at memories of more than half a century earlier. “I did my best, both as a medical professional and as a human being.”

But there were lighter moments: a visit to the Booker T. Washington, the first U.S. merchant ship skippered by an African American. “I met Captain Hugh Mulzac and my neighbor, Bernie Kassbaum, was the chief engineer, she said proudly.

Angy Lebowitz helps serve up food for revelers at the Communist Party’s Holiday Open House in New York in December 1995. | People’s World Archives

And there were the times when she met fellow Communist Party members who were working for the Office of Strategic Services, the U.S. intelligence agency that recruited Communists—and especially men who had fought in Spain during the Spanish Civil War—to parachute into German-occupied territory to work with the Partisans.

“They were HEROES, spelled in capital letters,” she said. “But the U.S. Army ordered the Partisan detachments demobilized as the battle line moved northward.” She said that, too, was a contradiction.

When the war ended in Europe, Lebowitz volunteered for duty in the Pacific and was in San Francisco awaiting orders when the war ended. Upon her return to civilian life, she completed college and went on to a career as a nurse in New York’s public hospitals.

Lebowitz endured the pains of McCarthyism in the years that soon followed.—FBI agents would check on her home and she was questioned by government officials at work—and witnessed most of the 20th century. However, she never stopped her involvement with the Communist Party or People’s World.

She was—and remains—an activist in what she calls “the good fight.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.

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