According to the LA Times, Leon Leyson died this past Saturday at the age of 83. Mr. Leyson was the youngest Jew saved from persecution during WWII by German industrialist Oskar Schindler. At the time he was chosen, he was an emaciated 13 year old who had to stand on a box to reach the machinery in the Krakow factory where he and his family were sheltered by Schindler.
Mr. Leyson was reluctant to speak about his experiences mainly because “he didn't think anybody was interested...” but also because having been given a second chance he just wanted to get on with life. He never let the Holocaust define him. He did not want to give his children a legacy of fear but of freedom.
After viewing the movie “Schindler's List”, Mr. Leyson said it felt like an out-of-body experience. “Because those little kids who were running away from the Nazi's, and hiding in attic crawl spaces, that was me and my friends.” His only criticism of the film was that he felt it “over-emphasized” Schindler's imperfections. The film did not show enough of the the businessman's “basic human decency”. By sheltering those that he did, he put everything on the line...”even to treat us as human beings was against the law”. Mr. Leyson did work 12 hour shifts like an adult but because he was so weak, Schindler doubled his rations and even took him off the line when it affected his eyesight. He added Leyson's siblings and his mother to his list to keep them together.
Mr. Leyson saw him again when Schindler made a trip to L.A in 1974 (just before he died). Leyson joined a group of survivors who wanted to meet the man that they regarded as a savior at the airport. Even after all the decades, when Mr. Leyson started to introduce himself, he found it wasn't necessary. “I know who you are,” Schindler said to the middle aged man before him, “you're Little Leyson”.
Most movies are meant purely for entertainment but from time to time they can remind us of people and events that should not be forgotten.