about the book
Little Leon Leyson, the youngest of five children, had a happy life. But when the Nazis invade Poland, his family is forced into the overcrowded Krakow walled ghetto, and Leon’s life turns into a living hell. There is barely any food, disease is rampant, and the soldiers beat and murder people at random. The Leyson family is Jewish, slated by the Nazis for extermination.
Leon is just ten. How will he survive?
Leon’s father works for Oskar Schindler, the man who runs the Emalia (enamelware) factory. Schindler is a complex man. Though a Nazi, he is also an opportunist and a spy whose personal mission is to save as many Jews as he can. Schindler compiles a list containing the names of essential Jewish people who work for him.
Truthfully, many of these people have no skills, but Schindler convinces the Nazis otherwise. Little emaciated Leon is number 289 and the youngest. He is so small he has to stand on a box to reach the lever of the machine he operates for twelve hours a day.
In this powerful memoir, Leon speaks about his family, the love they shared, and the enigmatic man who risked his own life to help them. Without rancor, Leon tells how he lived through the chaos and brutality that surrounded him. Though he survived the brutal work camps, he spent those six years believing that his luck would run out at any minute. But being on Schindler’s list offered at least a glimmer of hope.
For many years Leon Leyson did not talk about his teen years. He was a happy man who devoted himself to his family and to his teaching career. And then the movie “Schindler’s List” came out, and he felt it was time to tell his story.
Leon was the youngest person on the List. He survived WWII, the work camps, and the Nazi extermination of the Jews. His parents and two of his siblings also lived. One brother fled to the family’s village and died when its 500 residents were massacred by the Nazis. Another brother refused to leave his girlfriend. They both died in a concentration camp. He was just sixteen.
Once Leon decided to speak about his experiences, he made it his mission to tell his story to as many people as he could. For the next eighteen years, he visited hundreds of churches, synagogues, grade schools, and colleges. He never used notes and he never asked for a cent for his time and efforts. Each time he gave a straight-forward account, each different from the last and very personal. Leon had a chance to thank Oskar Schindler personally in 1965. He was very surprised that the man recognized him, calling him “Little Leyson.”
Leon was born Leib Lejzon. After the war, he and his family spent three years in a displaced persons camp near Frankfurt, Germany. In 1949, Leon immigrated to America with his parents. He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and went to Los Angeles City College, Los Angeles State College, and Pepperdine University on the GI bill. For 39 years he taught industrial arts at Huntington Park High School.
With the help of his wife Liz and Marilyn Harran (a professor of Holocaust studies at Chapman University), Leon wrote down his story. He died of lymphoma in January of 2013, never knowing his memories would be published.
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