Leon Leyson has died. He was the youngest of the 1,100 Jews rescued from the Nazis by Oskar Schindler.
He ended up teaching high school in Los Angeles for 39 years, and rarely mentioned his story to anyone.
There were exceptions.
Says the Los Angeles Times…
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.
Random shootings of Jews escalated into mass killings and deportations to extermination camps. The two constants in his life became hunger and fear.
One time when SS commandos surrounded the ghetto, he and a few other boys hid in the attic crawl space of a building next to their apartment. His mother, Anna, and another boy’s mother remained outside. But when the sound of gunshots and mayhem grew louder, Leyson’s mother scrambled into the cramped hideaway and with the boys watched in horror as the commandos took the other mother away.
“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.”
Two of his brothers also were killed. Older brother Hershel had fled to the family’s village and died in a massacre of its 500 residents.