Guide to the Benjamin M. Levaco Papers

Special Collections & Archives
University Library
California State University, Northridge
18111 Nordhoff Street
Northridge, CA 91330-8326


© Copyright 2020 Special Collections & Archives. All rights reserved.

Contributing Institution: Special Collections & Archives
Title: Benjamin M. Levaco Papers
Creator: Levaco, Benjamin M., 1911-1998
Identifier/Call Number: OCH.BML
Extent: 2.90 linear feet
Date (inclusive): Circa 1900-1999
Abstract: Benjamin Levaco was a Russian-born Jew who moved to China with his family in 1915 at the age of four. He grew up in Harbin and Tientsin, and after graduating high school began working for a sausage casing company in the 1930s. After World War II, he opened his own casing company with plants in Shanghai, Hangchow, Tientsin and Peking. He fled China with his wife in 1950, immigrating to New York City. He retired in the Los Angeles area, and traveled to China multiple times in the 1990s before his passing in 1998. The collection contains items from Levaco's life in China, as well as items related to his continued interest in the Old China Hands experience during his retirement.
Language of Material: English, Russian, Hebrew, Chinese

Arrangement of Materials:

Series I: Personal Materials, circa 1920s-1998
    Subseries A Correspondence, 1929-1996
    Subseries B: Groups and Organizations, 1959-1996
    Subseries C: Travel, 1982-1994
    Subseries D: Narratives and Poetry, 1978-1994
    Subseries E: Miscellaneous Documents and Ephemera, circa 1920-1999
Series II: Collected Publications and Narratives, circa 1917-1999
    Subseries A: Scholarly Works and News Clippings, circa 1917-1999
    Subseries B: Memoirs and Personal Narratives, 1943-1984
Series III: Photographs and Photocopied Images, circa 1900-1999

Biographical Information:

Benjamin (Ben) Levaco was born to Michael and Rachel Levaco in Kainsk, Siberia in 1911. His family moved to Harbin in 1915 to escape the rising Bolshevik forces in Russia, where his father ran a variety of businesses. In 1918, the family moved again to Yokohama, Japan, where Levaco attended Saint Joseph's College. The family lived in Japan until 1923, when the Great Kanto Earthquake hit and destroyed most of the city of Yokohama. The Levaco's were left without a home, business, or liquid assets as all records of their bank accounts were lost to the destruction of the earthquake. The family then moved to Tientsin, China, where Michael Levaco was able to establish a haberdashery. Benjamin attended the British Grammar School in Tientsin, graduated in 1927, and found employment in an American firm dealing in natural sausage casings, the Oppenheimer Casing Company.
As a part of his employment, Levaco traveled extensively throughout the interior of China and Mongolia to buy casings, and as a result became proficient in Chinese. In 1936, he was made the manager of a branch office in Shanghai, and worked there until 1941 when the occupying Japanese forces terminated all American-run businesses. During this time he worked as a real-estate agent, and after the war decided to establish his own casing export company with a few partners. His company, Huhzung Trading Company, owned plants in Shanghai, Hangchow, and expanded in 1948 to Tientsin and Peking as well. This business ran successfully until 1949, when Levaco decided to leave in the wake of the Communist takeover.
After hastily wrapping up his business affairs and losing much in the process, Levaco received a U.S. Immigration Visa in October of 1950, and moved to New York City with his second wife, Nata. Levaco worked a variety of jobs, including as a salesman for the Oppenheimer Casing Company and a Canadian casing company. Nata passed away in 1955 from cancer, and Levaco married his third wife, Sonia, in 1956. In 1971, he began working for the Independent Casing Company of Montreal, where he stayed for 20 years, even working over the phone when he and Sonia moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1986. Sonia passed away in 1989, but Levaco continued to live in the area, close to their daughter Gail and her family. Levaco took a number of trips to China in his later life, and was involved in a number of organizations for Old China Hands and Jewish people who formerly lived in China. He passed away in 1998, at the age of 87.

Scope and Contents

The Benjamin M. Levaco Papers contain items from Levaco's life in China, as well as items related to his continued interest in the Old China Hands experience during his retirement. The collection is arranged in three series: Personal Materials (circa 1920-1998), Collected Publications and Narratives (circa 1917-1999), and Photographs and Photocopied Images (circa 1900-1999).
Series I, Personal Materials, contains five subseries: Correspondence (1929-1996), Groups and Organizations (1959-1996), Travel (1982-1994), Narratives and Poetry (1978-1994), and Miscellaneous Documents and Ephemera (circa 1920-1998). The Correspondence subseries consists of letters sent to and from Benjamin Levaco covering a variety of topics, including a series of love letters written by Levaco to a former girlfriend, Tania. The Groups and Organizations subseries consists of newsletters, correspondence, and other documents related to a number of groups in which Levaco was involved. These groups include Jewish organizations, groups related to the Old China Hands experience, and a creative writing group. The Travel subseries consists of brochures, postcards, ephemera, and arrangements related to the various trips Levaco took to China in the 1990s. The Narratives and Poetry subseries consists of stories, essays, and poetry written by Levaco mostly about his life and family. Also included are translations done by Levaco of his father Michael's poetry written in Russian in China. The Miscellaneous Documents and Ephemera subseries consists of a number of items related to Levaco's personal life in China and America, including identification documents, records of property owned by Levaco in Hungjao, genealogical information, and grades from his grammar school in Tientsin.
Series II, Collected Publications and Narratives, contains two subseries. Subseries A, Scholarly Works and News Clippings (circa 1917-1999,) contains articles, presentations, and news clippings collected by Levaco related mostly to the Jewish experience in China as well as information on China in general. Subseries B,  Memoirs and Personal Narratives (1943-1984), contains narratives and stories collected and sent to Levaco written by others about their experiences living and visiting China and Japan.
Series III, Photographs and Photocopied Images, consists of photographs and photocopied pictures of Levaco's life in China and America as well as his trips to China in the 1990s.

Related Material

Conditions Governing Access:

The collection is open to research use.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection has not been transferred to California State University, Northridge. Copyright status for other materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gail Levaco Goldman, 1998.

Preferred Citation:

For information about citing items in this collection consult the appropriate style manual, or see the Citing Archival Materials  guide.

Processing Information:

Andy Villalobos, May 2012

Subjects and Indexing Terms



Series I: Personal Materials, ca. 1920-1998


Subseries A: Correspondence, 1929-1996

Box 1, Folder 1

General Correspondence, 1929-1939

Box 1, Folder 2

General Correspondence, 1950-1956

Box 1, Folder 3

General Correspondence, 1968-1986

Box 1, Folder 4

General Correspondence, 1990-1992

Box 1, Folder 5

General Correspondence, 1993-1994

Box 1, Folder 6

General Correspondence, 1995-1996

Box 1, Folder 7

Undated General Correspondence

Box 1, Folder 8

Tania Correspondence, 1938-1939

Box 1, Folder 9

Russian and Chinese Correspondence


Subseries B: Groups and Organizations, 1959-1996

Box 1, Folder 10

American Far-Eastern Society, Inc., 1980-1996

Box 1, Folder 11

The China Society of Southern California, 1985-1995

Box 1, Folder 12

Creative Writing Group, 1991

Box 1, Folder 13

Old China Hands, 1991-1996

Box 1, Folder 14

Reading and Discussion Group - Jewish Labor Comm., 1988

Box 1, Folder 15

Shanghai Tiffin Club, 1959-1980


Subseries C: Travel, 1982-1994

Box 1, Folder 16

China Tour Information, 1982-1992

Box 1, Folder 17

China Today Tour, 1990

Box 1, Folder 18

China Today Tour, 1992

Box 1, Folder 19

China Today Tour - Silk Road, 1994

Box 1, Folder 20

China Pictorial Brochures, 1992

Box 1, Folder 21

China Postcards, ca. 1990-ca. 1999

Box 1, Folder 22

Miscellaneous China Brochures, ca. 1990-ca. 1999

Box 1, Folder 23

Miscellaneous Tour Ephemera, ca. 1990-ca. 1999

Box 4, Folder 1

Shanghai and Europe Maps, 1940-1947

Box 5, Item 2

VHS Tape - Levaco on Tour in Shanghai, 1994


Subseries D: Narratives and Poetry, 1978-1994

Box 2, Folder 1

General Autobiographies, ca. 1990-ca. 1999

Box 2, Folder 2

Stories about Levaco Family Members, 1981-1991

Box 2, Folder 3

Stories about Childhood and Teenage Years (1911-1929), ca. 1990-ca. 1999

Box 2, Folder 4

Stories about The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, 1989-1991

Box 2, Folder 5

Stories about the 1930s, ca. 1991

Box 2, Folder 6

Stories about the 1940s, ca. 1991

Box 2, Folder 7

Stories about the 1950s and 1960s, ca. 1991

Box 2, Folder 8

Stories about Los Angeles, Health and Life in the 1980s and Early 1990s, 1990-1991

Box 2, Folder 9

Stories about Trips Taken to China, 1990-1994

Box 2, Folder 10

Writings about Israel and the Jewish People, ca. 1989-1992

Box 2, Folder 11

"Welcome to Ellis Island" Sign

Box 2, Folder 12

Poems, 1982-1994

Box 2, Folder 13

Translations of Michael Levaco's Poetry from the 1930s and 1940s, 1992

Box 2, Folder 14

Russian Poems

Box 2, Folder 15

Published Writings and Speaking Engagements, 1978-1992


Subseries E: Miscellaneous Documents and Ephemera, ca. 1920-1998

Box 2, Folder 16

Date Book, 1975-1976

Box 2, Folder 17

Genealogical and Levaco Family Information

Box 2, Folder 18

Hungjao Bungalow Lease Documents, ca. 1950-1989

Box 2, Folder 19

Identification Documents and Business Cards, ca. 1930-1992

Box 2, Folder 20

Miscellaneous Personal Documents, ca. 1920-ca. 1989

Box 2, Folder 21

Photocopies of Material on Levaco from the Skirball Cultural Center, 1998

Box 4, Folder 2

Chinese Documents

Box 4, Folder 3

Tientsin Grammar School Report Cards, 1924-1927

Box 4, Folder 4

Caricature of Benjamin Levaco, 1973

Box 5, Item 1

Paperweight - "Ben Levaco, Consultant"


Series II: Collected Publications and Narratives, ca. 1917-1999


Subseries A: Scholarly Works and News Clippings, ca. 1917-1999

Box 2, Folder 22

General Articles and Information on China, 1986-1994

Box 2, Folder 23

Information on Old Shanghai, Tientsin, and Harbin, ca. 1990-ca. 1999

Box 2, Folder 24

Scholarly Articles and Information on Jews in China, 1987-1992

Box 2, Folder 25

Article on Ron Levaco's Documentary, "Round Eyes in the Middle Kingdom ," 1996

Box 2, Folder 26

"Judaism: A Historical Enclave Revealed" by Rabbi Howard A. Berman

Box 2, Folder 27

Article and Presentation on Jews in Harbin, 1989, 1992

Box 2, Folder 28

Presentations on Jews in Shanghai, 1989, 1994

Box 2, Folder 29

"Chinese in America" Essay

Box 3, Folder 1

Newspaper Clippings from China and Russia, ca. 1919-ca. 1949

Box 3, Folder 2

Newspaper and Magazine Articles, 1977-1999

Box 4, Folder 5

"Shanghai Daze," by Orville Schell - Los Angeles Times Magazine, 18 June 1995

Box 4, Folder 6

Russian Articles


Subseries B: Memoirs and Personal Narratives, 1943-1984

Box 3, Folder 3

Asbury, Earl and Sally - "China and Tibet - 1984"

Box 3, Folder 4

B-n, M - "Emigre Seder in Yokohama - 1919," 1943

Box 3, Folder 5

Fradkin, Abraham - "Guests for a Moment" and "The International Seminar on 'Jews in Shanghai'"

Box 3, Folder 6

Fradkin, Abraham - "Period in the Circle" and "The Earth is Trembling"

Box 3, Folder 7

Guang, Pan - "President Herzog in Shanghai"

Box 3, Folder 8

Hodgeman, Joan - "Reminiscences of a Journey to China in August, 1978"

Box 3, Folder 9

Klyachko, L. - "Stories of the Past" (In Russian)

Box 3, Folder 10

Machado, Mario - "Shanghai Memories: What Do I Remember???"

Box 3, Folder 11

Moranz, Irving - "A Fugitive's Journey"

Box 3, Folder 12

Zakharov, A. - "Forgotten of Harbin: Book 1" (In Russian), 1960

Box 3, Folder 13

Zakharov, A. - "Forgotten of Harbin: Book 2" (In Russian), 1960

Box 3, Folder 14

Zakharov, A. - "Forgotten of Harbin: Book 3" (In Russian), 1960

Box 3, Folder 15

"Impressions of My Trip Back"

Box 3, Folder 16

Photocopy of a Letter from an Old China Hand in Tientsin, 1901


Series III: Photographs and Photocopied Images, ca. 1900-ca. 1999

Box 3, Folder 17

Photographs and Photocopies, ca. 1900-ca. 1929

Box 3, Folder 18

Photographs and Photocopies, ca. 1930-ca. 1939

Box 3, Folder 19

Photographs and Photocopies, ca. 1940-ca. 1969

Box 3, Folder 20

Photographs and Photocopies, ca. 1970-ca. 1989

Box 3, Folder 21

Photographs and Photocopies, ca. 1990-ca. 1999

Box 4, Folder 7

Oversized Photocopies, 1927-1993