It is with deep sadness that the OLLI-CSUF office announces the passing of longtime member Leon Leyson on Saturday, January 12, 2013.
There will be a private funeral and burial this week. A memorial service is planned for Sunday, February 17 at Chapman University in Orange CA.
Schindler's List - the sheet of paper, a photocopy, is folded and faded. The original meant the difference between life and death for those fortunate to have their names on it more than 60 years ago.
To more than 1200 Jewish people Oscar Schindler was all that stood between them and death at the hands of the Nazis. A man all too human, full of flaws like the rest of us. The unlikeliest of all role models - a Nazi, a womanisor, a war profiteer. An ordinary man who answered the call of conscience. Even in the worst of circumstances Oscar Schindler did extraordinary things, matched by no one. He remained true to his Jews, the workers he referred to as my children. He kept the SS out and everyone alive.
Leib Lejzon was one of them. One column of numbers and names, No. 69128, Eisendrehergeh., it says in German next to his name.
The Schindler Jews
Leib Lejzon - today Leon Leyson - was 13 years old when his father brought him into Oscar Schindler’s enamelware factory DEF. He was the youngest survivor of Schindler's List.
After World War 2, Leon Leyson spent three years in a displaced persons camp near Frankfurt Am Main in Germany. He came to the U.S. in 1949 and served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Afterward, he attended Los Angeles City College and Los Angeles State College and became a teacher. He taught industrial arts at Huntington Park High School for 39 years and is now retired.
Leon Leyson is a member of the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education Advisory Board at Chapman University and he has told his story to school groups, universities and community organizations hundreds of times across California and the nation - drawing record crowds and rave reviews. He is married to Liz, and has two children, Stacy and Daniel Tsalig. And three grandchildren.
In 2004, Leon Leyson inspired a little 12-year-old girl, Christine McNab, Grade 7 Lakeside Middle School, to write an essay on Oscar Schindler - and in May, 2004, The Chapman University in Orange honored Christine as a local winner of its fifth annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest. Christine ended her essay:
"We all have the choice to do the right thing or the wrong thing, to be brave or to look the other way. Therefore, I want each of us to think about the following words and place them in our hearts: I will be a person of conscience and courage. I will know what is right and what is wrong. I will have the bravery to stand up for what is right. And by combining these qualities, I know that I can and will make a difference in the world."
And in May that same year, Leon Leyson met with U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, who later said:
"Mr. Leyson is a living example of the good in human nature as exemplified by Oscar Schindler. But his story is also a bitter reminder that we should never forget the evil that took the lives of six million of his fellow Jews. Mr. Leyson's work today to educate our children about the Holocaust is a service to humanity. We must never forget. Never again."
He was born on September 15, 1929, in Narewka, a peaceful town 150 miles northeast of Warsaw. Here Moshe and Chana Lejzon led a happy life, highlighted by the births of their five children, Hershel, Tsalig, Pesza, David and Lejb. The Lejzon family's feelings of security collapsed, however, when in 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and the brutality of the Nazis accelerated with murder, violence and terror - the family was herded into Kracow's Jewish Ghetto.
In 1941 Hershel, the oldest, fled Kracow but was killed by the Nazis in a massacre in Narewka. By then, Moshe and David were working for Oscar Schindler at his enameled-goods factory Emalia, Deutsch Emailwaren Fabrik, close to the Jewish ghetto.
But slowly the seeds of the Nazi's plan for the total extermination of the Jews dawned on Oscar Schindler in all its horror - he came to see the Jews not only as cheap labor, but also as mothers, fathers, and children, exposed to ruthless slaughter.
He decided to risk everything in desperate attempts to protect his Jews from certain death in the death camps. Thanks to massive bribery and his connections, he got away with increasing his Jewish workforce - and the Lejzon family were reunited at the Schindler factory.
During World War 2 Oscar Schindler continually risked his life to protect and save his Jewish workers. He spent every penny he had bribing and paying off the Nazis to get food and better treatment for his Jews. Nobody was hit at his factory, nobody murdered, nobody sent to death camps like the nearby Auschwitz.
Oscar Schindler earned the everlasting gratitude of his Schindlerjews. No matter why, no matter that he was an alcoholic and a womanisor of the worst sort - what matters to his Jews is that he surfaced from the chaos of madness and risked everything for them. And generations will remember him for what he did. No matter how many businesses Schindler failed in, he was a success in life ..