3-Minute Interview: Leon Leyson

The man born Leib Lejzon was the youngest of the Jewish Holocaust survivors employed by Oskar Schindler during World War II, a story later immortalized in the film “Schindler’s List.” Leyson began working in Schindler’s enamelware factory in 1943 at just 13 years of age. Though his two older brothers died during the Holocaust, Leyson’s parents, sister and another brother survived because of Schindler’s efforts. Leyson spoke in San Francisco recently.

Ithas been 60 years since you worked for Oskar Schindler. What are your memories of the man? I have many vivid memories of Schindler. He would come by after parties and stop and talk to me. Occasionally he would order me double rations of food. In the light of the times, the norm was to murder Jews, not to save them. He took a great many risks by helping us.

Is it cathartic speaking about your experiences in the Holocaust? You would think so, but each time is still as difficult as the first time. My whole extended family was murdered by the Nazis. I never spoke of my experiences until the movie “Schindler’s List” came out. After that, people were very interested in hearing my story.

What was your reaction when “Schindler’s List” was released? When I went to the showing, I couldn’t believe how authentic it was. Being filmed on location, it depicted real people. For me, the worst experience in the movie wasn’t when the atrocities were committed, but when the people were driven from their homes. We didn’t know about the concentration camps. We did not expect anything to happen.

What do you take out of being the youngest survivor on Schindler’s list? In some ways, I regret not remembering more of the people older than I. I was young, and very fortunate to be hired. Everyone’s story is so important from that time; I wish I could remember them all.

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