Obituary for Leon Leyson, Youngest Survivor on Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List is one of my all-time favourite films. It is worth rewatching after I read an obituary of Leon Leyson, the youngest survivor on Oskar Schindler’s list, in this Los Angeles Times piece.

Leyson, a longtime resident of Fullerton, died Saturday in Whittier after a four-year battle with lymphoma, his daughter Stacy Wilfong said. He was 83.

She said her father was reluctant to talk about the war years because he “didn’t think anybody was interested. He didn’t have public speaking experience. He didn’t think he was going to be any good.”

His reticence may also have been due to his attitude that, having been given a second chance at life, he just wanted to get on with it.

“The truth is, I did not live my life in the shadow of the Holocaust,” he told the Portland Oregonian in 1997. “I did not give my children a legacy of fear. I gave them a legacy of freedom.”

The youngest of five children of a glass factory worker and his wife, Leyson was born Sept. 15, 1929, in Narewka, Poland, a village near the Russian border. He later moved to Krakow with his family.

He was a few weeks shy of his 10th birthday in 1939 when German forces invaded Poland and life as he had known it began to crumble.

Six months after the invasion, Poland’s Jews were ordered into a section of Krakow enclosed by a fence, the tops of which, Leyson often recalled, resembled grave markers. “I don’t think that was an accident,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1994. His parents loaded their belongings onto a wagon and were crammed into one bedroom of an apartment in the Jewish ghetto with only a sheet separating them from another family.

Leyson didn’t discount his luck in survival:

“I can recount dozens of times where if I had stepped … to my left I would have been gone, or if I happened to step to my right,” Leyson told The Times. “It wasn’t anything like being smart or clever or anything like that.”

Worth reading the article for the last line alone. So touching.

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