Leon Leyson was a life-long teacher, a student of humanity, an amazing human being, and the youngest member of Schindler's List. I was sad to hear of his passing this weekend.
Over the past twenty years, Leon's willingness to share his experience as a Holocaust survivor and the hope he retained, touched the hearts and lives of countless teachers and students. Facing History and Ourselves in Los Angeles had the privilege of having him speak regularly at our seminars on the Holocaust and Human Behavior, and many teachers we work with then invited him to their classrooms. Once the film Schindler's List came out, the story he had kept mainly to himself became known to colleagues and his own students in Los Angeles and Orange counties. As many times as I heard it, I never passed on an opportunity to hear him speak. It made me cry every time. But, remarkably, every time Leon also succeeded in reminding me of man's humanity and goodness.
I invite any who have heard him speak to share their remembrances, and I'll start with a few of mine.
- I remember his speaking fondly of Schindler, remembering how he called him "little Leyson" and took the time to get him extra food after seeing him on the factory floor.
- I can never forget Leon's narration of losing one of his brothers when the brother chose to stay with his girlfriend, on the train that would take both of them to certain death, rather than letting Schindler get him off that train since he could not take his girlfriend with him.
- I remember the importance to Leon of including, every time he spoke, the power of one American woman on a train when he was new to this country and still a child. She saw his confusion with American coins and gently taught him what each meant. He didn't know her name. He never saw her again. But, her small act of kindness meant worlds to him.
I am grateful that over the years, I have had his presence, his hope, and his words to inspire me. (For NBC's story on Leon Leyson and video clip, click here.)