A Boy On Schindler’s List
Leon Leyson was born Leib Lejzon, the youngest of six
children, on September 15, 1929, in Narewka, a small town in
northeastern Poland. In the summer, Leon and his friends ran
barefoot in the meadows and swam in the river; in the winter,
they had snowball fights and skated on the river.
In 1938, Leon’s parents moved the family to Krakow,
some 350 miles away, where Leon’s father had a job. Life in the
big city was exciting for a country boy—streetcars, indoor
plumbing, electric lights. But his freedom to explore ended with
the German invasion in September 1939. His father lost his job,
and Leon was prohibited from attending school. The family was
ordered into the overcrowded ghetto where they shared a
bedroom with two others.
Life in the ghetto meant constant hunger. Leon ran
errands for elderly people, always giving his mother the slice of
bread he earned so she could divide it into tiny portions for all
the family. Yet the Leysons were better off than some because
Leon’s father, Moishe, and brother, David, were hired by Oskar
Schindler, a Nazi businessman who had come to Poland to make
his fortune. Although they received no pay, father and son could
leave the ghetto for work and smuggle back in their pockets a
bit of food or a piece of coal to fuel the stove.
The family faced the constant danger of deportation. In
one Aktion (round up), Leon’s 17-year-old brother, Tsalig, who
could build a radio from scratch and was his younger brother’s
hero, was seized along with his girlfriend. By chance, Schindler
spotted him on the train and offered to get him off, but he could
not do the same for his girlfriend. Tsalig refused to abandon her.
Both were murdered in the Belzec death camp. Leon’s oldest
brother, Hershel, who had fled Krakow for Narewka, was killed
with all the town’s Jews in August 1941. He was 21 years old.
Sent to the Plaszow labor camp, run by the sadistic Amon
Goeth, the family survived only because Schindler placed them
on his “List” and moved them to his camp. Schindler treated his
workers as people, pausing to talk with little Leon, who had to
stand on a box to reach the controls of the machine he operated,
and afterwards, ordering that he be given an extra bowl of soup.
The Leysons were among the 1,200 Jews Schindler saved
by bringing them to his new factory in Brunnlitz,
Czechoslovakia where they were liberated on May 8, 1945.
Leon and his parents spent three years in a displaced
persons camp in Germany. There Leon resumed the education
that had ended when he was ten. In 1949, he and his parents
immigrated to the United States. Working days and attending
school at night, Leon earned a high school diploma and college
degree. He taught for 39 years at Huntington Park High School.
He married, became the father of two and the grandfather of
three. Since 1993, when the film Schindler’s List appeared, he
has spoken to dozens of schools, universities, and
organizations, inspiring thousands by his story and that of
In 1965 Leon was among the “Schindler Jews” who
welcomed their rescuer to Los Angeles. Twenty years had
passed and Leon was uncertain if Schindler would remember
him, but Schindler looked at him, shook his hand and said,
“You’re little Leyson.”
From Holocaust Survivors: The Indestructible Spirit project. Text Copyright Chapman University 2007.
Leon Leyson’s memoirs The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible . . . on Schindler’s List was published in August, 2013.
For more info on Leon Leyson’s family, click here