At 13, Leyson was machinist at factory

TODAY'S LOCAL NEWS

 

October 20, 2007

 

OCEANSIDE – It took him 40 years to talk about his experiences as a child of the Holocaust, but once he got started, Leon Leyson was encouraged to continue.
 
 
Leyson, 78, of Orange County will tell his triumphant survival story Tuesday as a guest of Chabad of Oceanside.

He was born Leib Lejzon in Narewka, Poland, in 1929 and was the youngest of five children. Leyson and his family were among the 1,200 Jews saved by Oskar Schindler, a German who took in Jewish workers during World War II to help him run his enamelware factory in Brinnlitz, Poland. The searing story of courage and heartbreak was made into an Academy Award-winning film in 1993.

At 13, Leyson was a machinist in Schindler's factory. Schindler was fond of him, giving him the nickname “Little Leyson,” he said during a phone interview.

Rabbi Baruch Greenberg of Chabad of Oceanside said Schindler made sure Leyson had extra rations, and when Leyson's vision began to fail, Schindler excused him from the night shift.

After five years in Schindler's factory, Leyson and his family were freed. Leyson moved to the United States and was drafted into the Army in 1951. He was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, as an Army engineer during the Korean War.

DETAILS
Leon Leyson, the youngest survivor on Schindler's List

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Best Western Oceanside Inn, 1680 Oceanside Blvd., Oceanside

Admission: $15 advance, $18 at the door

Reservations: Chabad of Oceanside, (760) 806-7765 or www.jewishoceanside.com

To learn more: Leon Leyson recommends reading “Night” by Elie Wiesel. It deals with Wiesel's experiences during the Holocaust.

When he left the military in 1958, Leyson went back to school to perfect his skills as a machinist and became an industrial arts teacher at Huntington Park High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Leyson taught there from 1958 to 1997.

Leyson married and had two children and three grandsons. He lives in Fullerton and enjoys speaking to organizations and schools about his brush with history.

“In my case, I simply tell my experience as a child of the Holocaust . . . what I experienced, what I felt, what I feel today,” Leyson said. “It's a real personal story. I'm not a scholar; I just have my story and that of my family, and how we – against long, long odds of survival – survived. Five (of the seven) of us survived,” Leyson said.

However, Leyson lost his extended family of aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins.

Greenberg said Leyson's speech, “Saved by an Angel,” is important for everyone to hear – especially those who doubt the Holocaust happened.

“It's important to bring it up, again and again, that people are still alive from the Holocaust,” Greenberg said.


Stephanie K. Parry: (760) 752-6750; stephanie.parry@tlnews.net

 

Q&A WITH LEON LEYSON

Q: What does it mean to you to be a Holocaust survivor?A: To me it means that I've been the luckiest person in the world to have survived it. I think of myself as that all the time.

 

Q: Does the experience still affect you today?A: Yeah, I can't deny it does not. It's not the center of my life. It's just there . . . a part of me. At this point in time, I'm a human being who lives in the United States and I'm a United States citizen, and that's part of my good fortune, that I came here with my parents and was able to pick up a new life.

 

Q: How would you compare the actual experience to the movie, “Schindler's List”?A: Naturally ,it would have to be compressed, but the basic story and the activities of Schindler and some of the other people involved were very, very authentic. It was very smart to do it in black and white, for example. That's how I remember those five years, black and white. I don't remember any colors, that was appropriate. (Director Steven) Spielberg knew what he was doing. It was filmed on location. It was filmed in Krakow, where it was placed. Seeing the streets and buildings for me was chilling in places.

 

Q: Why did they call it Schindler's List?A: Schindler's List was the one that was made up for those people who were going to be transferred from Krakow to Brinnlitz where Schindler had his factory. They were transferred and survived the war. The list was a list of survival.

 

Q: Did you have any contact with Schindler since you left the factory?A: Yes, he came to Los Angeles to visit in 1965. It was an awesome meeting. Last time he saw me, I was 15. When he came to Los Angeles 20 years later, I was grown and married and teaching. We went to the airport to greet him, and when it was my turn, I was going to introduce myself, I didn't want to embarrass him or anything, and he interrupted me and said, “I know who you are. You're Little Leyson.”

 

– STEPHANIE K. PARRY