Schindler's Youngest Employee Tells His Story

'I was in the original cast,' survivor says

Tonight in Hyde Park and on Tuesday in Skokie, Leon Leyson will be speaking about his experience on Schindler's List.

No, not the 1993 Oscar-winning movie. The actual list.

"I was in the original cast," Leyson told the Sun-Times.

Leyson was only 13 when industrialist Oskar Schindler hired him to work in his factory to make parts for bomb ignition devices. "Little Leyson," as he was nicknamed by Schindler, had to stand on a box in order to operate the machines.

"He would ask me how I was doing, how many pieces I had made," said Leyson. "I think he was a little bit amused, because I was standing on a box pretending to be an adult. Sometimes after visits like that, when I went to get my [food] ration, I heard Schindler had left word that I should get two rations."

Schindler used his connections (and his money) with many Nazi authorities to help save over 1,100 Jewish factory workers from the death camps.

Leyson was the youngest survivor on Schindler's list.

Two decades later, when Schindler arrived at Los Angeles, several grateful former employees greeted him at the airport, including Leyson.

"I started to introduce myself," said Leyson. "He interrupted me and said, ‘I know who you are. You are Little Leyson.'"

Now 79 years old, Leyson still has difficulty talking about those sad times, losing relatives and friends. Leyson's parents, sister, and one brother all escaped death thanks to Schindler, but two other brothers did not survive.

Leyson's inspirational message couldn't come at a more appropriate time, as many in the Jewish community stress over disheartening recent events, locally and globally.

"His message is there's always going to be people that will see a greater picture than the dark, small reality that presents itself at the moment," Rabbi Meir Hecht, director of the Jewish Learning Institute of Metropolitan Chicago, said to the Chicago Tribune. "In his case, it was Mr. Schindler."

Leyson will speak tonight at 7:30 p.m. at 1414 E 59th Street on the University of Chicago's Hyde Park campus. He will speak again at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Niles West High School, 5701 Oakton Street, Skokie.

Tickets are available for purchase. For more information, visit www.learnchicago.org.

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