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January 14, 2013 10:15 PM   Subscribe

In 1974, Leon Leyson was one of a group of Jews who greeted Oskar Schindler when he visited Los Angeles. It was the first time the two had seen each other since the war. He began to introduce himself, but Schindler interrupted: "I know who you are," Schindler said, grinning at the middle-aged man before him. "You're Little Leyson." On Sunday, the youngest name on Schindler's List passed away at the age of 83. "The truth is, I did not live my life in the shadow of the Holocaust," he told the Portland Oregonian in 1997. "I did not give my children a legacy of fear. I gave them a legacy of freedom."

Mr. Leyson was interviewed at a "Day of Remembrance" event in April 2010. (video)

He was also interviewed by his daughter-in-law for 89.3 KPCC (Southern California Public Radio) in May, 2011. ("Listen Now" link is on the left.)

The list. Also. Mr. Leyson's name was originally Leib Lejzon.

Chabad.org: On Schindler's List: Leon Leyson's Story of Survival.
"People should know the Nazis did not murder numbers. They murdered individuals," said Leyson. "Somebody's brother , somebody's uncle. Somebody's aunt. Somebody's grandchild. Somebody's grandfather."

Leyson saw it as his duty to keep the story of the Holocaust alive, and to highlight the decency of people such as Schindler.

"It's not going to be very long before there won't be any witnesses," said Leyson. "And if I tell my story and there are 100 people in the audience and many of them telling the story to somebody else then somebody else will tell the story to someone else."
posted by zarq (35 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 

In lieu of the traditional period:

[rock]
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 10:21 PM on January 14, 2013 [16 favorites]


As It Happens just covered this today, too, by interviewing his one of his good friends in California. (Look at the right for "Latest Audio", then scroll down to Part 2 for January 14. The interview starts at the 1:00 mark. This should play outside of Canada.)
posted by maudlin at 10:23 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I heard this on As It Happens as well. Great news about how his life turned out.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:28 PM on January 14, 2013


You should listen to the portion of the story where they play part of a talk by him. He sounded like such a lovely man.
posted by maudlin at 10:31 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Following the lead of Bathtub Bobsled [•] <rock
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:08 PM on January 14, 2013


"I did not live my life in the shadow of the Holocaust"

I'm conflicted by this statement in a way I can't really express properly in words. My grandfather was a US soldier attached to a British unit that was among the first into Bergen Belsen. I grew up hearing the horrors of war in his stories, photos and artifacts (all destroyed in his later years). Every single day he lived - from my birth onward - was in the the context and shadow of his experience there. The photos I grew up seeing were beyond belief.

While I'm very sad my grandfathers next 50 years were lived with the memories of that period, I'm happy that at least someone who was impacted was able to have a life outside the shadow of that era.
posted by blaneyphoto at 11:19 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I first encountered Metafilter obit stories about the same time I finally watched "Schindler's List," so I have always seen our . posts as our equivalent of the small pebbles on the gravestone.

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posted by Guy Smiley at 11:42 PM on January 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


For all my ideological issues with Israel, it's always clear to me that we must never, ever, ever forget the Holocaust.

I'm sorry the last person on that list has died because I hope we can remember the atrocities clearly forever, lest they ever be repeated.

My fear is that as we lose more survivors due to old age, we inch closer to forgetting. My understanding is that the greatest pacifists of all time, are those that have been to war.



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posted by taff at 12:01 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


[If you want to have a discussion about the merit or propriety of Holocaust-related humour, heading it off by posing the question as were it itself part of some sort of Metafilter-specific absurdist comedy routine might not be a productive approach. Moreover, this is an obit thread. I would urge you to consider whether this is the appropriate venue for such a discussion in the first place.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:26 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


For all my ideological issues with Israel, it's always clear to me that we must never, ever, ever forget the Holocaust.

Yeah, that sounds nice on paper and all, but the Turks have forgotten and suppressed and denied the Armenian genocide for decades and what price has anyone paid for that? Armenia exists as an independent state with secure and recognized borders and Turkey still denies having committed genocide remains in good relations with the United States and is a long-standing member of NATO. Turkey never paid any restitution to Armenia.

Forgive and forget seems to me to be the better way in the long run for the peoples of the Earth to learn to get along with each other. Yeah, the Armenians will never forgive and forget, but the de facto situation is the same as if they had. The sins of the father shouldn't be visited on the sons forever. At some point, the people of today have to let go of the past.
posted by three blind mice at 12:50 AM on January 15, 2013


I love this comment from the LA Times article:
Patricia Cetnarowski at 7:27 PM January 14, 2013
I took his class at HPHS. He let me pass out the tools!! He was a very nice man!!!
There are worse ways to be remembered.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:55 AM on January 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm sorry the last person on that list has died because I hope we can remember the atrocities clearly forever, lest they ever be repeated.

I don't think Leyson was necessarily the last survivor, just the youngest survivor. There could still be a few folks older than he who are still around. Still, the point stands.

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posted by dhens at 12:56 AM on January 15, 2013


I come to this as the spouse of a Tibetan... where a not completely dissimilar situation is currently happening. I don't want anyone to ever forget one of these periods. I'm not saying not forgiving is acceptable. (So far, China hasn't asked for Tibetan forgiveness.... so that's a bit moot. I believe the Tibetans would give it though.)

But still... clarity... and not forgetting.... that's important. Never forgetting what people are capable of... appreciating both the marvelous and the hideous... that's what I'm passionate about.
posted by taff at 1:01 AM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't think Leyson was necessarily the last survivor, just the youngest survivor. There could still be a few folks older than he who are still around. Still, the point stands.

"In addition to his daughter Stacy of Warrenton, Va., he is survived by his wife of 46 years, Lis; a son Daniel, of Los Angeles; a sister, Aviva Nissenbaum, and a brother, David, both of Israel; and six grandchildren."
posted by MuffinMan at 1:03 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


MuffinMan is on it!
posted by dhens at 1:05 AM on January 15, 2013


... and Turkey still denies having committed genocide remains in good relations with the United States and is a long-standing member of NATO

Germany doesn't deny having committed genocide, and it also remains in good relations with the United States and is a long-standing member of NATO.
posted by zsazsa at 1:20 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Germany doesn't deny having committed genocide,

And so no difference between Germany and Turkey, no cost or benefit to admitting or denying culpability in genocide. No difference for the perpetrators. But for the victims, there would seem to be a big difference.

"I did not give my children a legacy of fear. I gave them a legacy of freedom."

Israel has, unfortunately, a legacy of fear that denies today's Palestinians any hope of freedom. It seems Mr. Leyson ultimately got it right and it is perhaps that lesson which should never be forgotten.
posted by three blind mice at 1:49 AM on January 15, 2013


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posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:57 AM on January 15, 2013


Armenia is one of the poorest countries on earth, cut off from the world (its border with Turkey is closed, primarily due to its insistance that Turkey stop denying the genocide, and it is at war with Azerbaijan, leaving everything imported or exported through the country to go through rural Iran or Georgia).

The paranoia and nationalism supporting the genocide denial in Turkey has become a crazy reverse in the country -- nationalists view the criticism of Turkey as a threat, leading to further racism and hate rallies where rabid nationalists hold signs stating "you are all Armenians, you are all bastards."

Armenians in Turkey have for decades been forced to hide their identity, feeling unsafe to admit their background. In the last month, an elderly Armenian women and an ethnically-Turkish teacher at an Armenian school were viciously murdered, with another 80-something Armenian woman losing an eye in an attack.

Acknowledging the events of history allows people to confront hatred and fear in their societies. Turkey and Armenia would both be greatly better off if this truth were recognised and taught. The people of today can't let go of the past, because the past still has an often painful and severe bearing on the present. I agree that these events should never be forgotten; history will repeat itself if we allow them to be.
posted by Theiform at 2:22 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


[No, this is not going to be an Israel vs. Palestine thread either.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 2:24 AM on January 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


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posted by Didymium at 2:52 AM on January 15, 2013


Yes, we can choose to argue about the nations who perpetrate the evil. And each person who's posted an accusation against a nation in this thread has been correct in that accusation, as well.

Or we can use this thread to pay homage to the men like Oskar Schindler; people who, in the face of such an aggregious wrong by a nation, choose to work for the side of the angels. It does well to remember individual victims like Leon Leyson, and Apram who survived the Armenian genocide, and Claudine who survived Rwanda and....but it also does well to remember people like Paul Rusesabagina or Soghomon Tehlirian or Oskar Schindler. We've been leaving our rocks in here; I note that at the very end of Spielberg's film Schindler's List, the gravestone that Leon Leyson and all the other survivors was leaving rocks on was Oskar Schindler's and not Amon Goeth's.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:20 AM on January 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


In his review of the TV drama The Promise, the author Howard Jacobson made a good point about people who use the Holocaust to excoriate Jews and Israel:
Forget Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is old hat. The new strategy [...] is to depict the Holocaust in all its horror in order that Jews can be charged ("You, of all people") with failing to live up to it. By this logic the Holocaust becomes an educational experience from which Jews were ethically obliged to graduate summa cum laude, Israel being the proof that they didn't. "Jews know more than anyone that killing civilians is wrong," resounds an unmistakably authorial voice in The Promise. Thus are Jews doubly damned: to the Holocaust itself and to the moral wasteland of having found no humanising redemption in its horrors.
The (non-Jewish) blogger Chas Newkey-Brown writing in the Jewish Chronicle added in response:
When directed by gentiles towards Jews, the "they-of-all-people" argument is in its very essence so fundamentally ill-judged and unjust, and voiced with such a breathtaking lack of self-awareness, that my spirit flags when I hear it.
[...]
I would go further. I contend that, as a result of the Holocaust and what preceded it, it is we gentiles who should know better. The Holocaust followed centuries of slander, persecution, violence and murder committed by gentiles against Jews. So it is not you who have an increased responsibility to behave morally, but us.
[...]
Let us strip the "they-of-all-people" argument down to its very basics: gentiles telling Jews that we killed six million of your people and that as a result it is you, not us, who have lessons to learn; that it is you, not us, who need to clean up your act. It is an argument of atrocious, spiteful insanity. Do not accept it; turn it back on those who offer it. For it is us, not you, who should know better.

posted by Joe in Australia at 4:41 AM on January 15, 2013 [8 favorites]



Yeah, that sounds nice on paper and all, but the Turks have forgotten and suppressed and denied the Armenian genocide for decades and what price has anyone paid for that?


Us Jews paid a price for the Armenian genocide. A third of us killed.

The world's mute response to the Armenian genocide had a big part in emboldening Hitler to conduct the Holocaust in the first place.
posted by ocschwar at 5:40 AM on January 15, 2013


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This is by no means a new observation, but we are so close to seeing the last of the Holocaust survivors (בלי עין הרע).

I've been thinking about this lately: at Friday night dinner my partner (who is a lapsed Catholic) noticed that one of the elderly ladies at the table had an Auschwitz tattoo -- he had never seen one before and was quite shocked and struck by seeing it "in real life". I take it for granted because I've seen so many, but they're becoming less commonplace as that generation goes. And with them go their stories -- so many untold and lost, but thankfully not in this case.
posted by prettypretty at 6:09 AM on January 15, 2013


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posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:15 AM on January 15, 2013


Schindler's List was the first movie that made me really, really cry.

I knew it would be sad when I started watching it and steeled my teenage self against the emotions, but at the end, when he starts saying he could saved one more if he had just sold the car or this or that, I just lost it. Even now I feel a bit tingly at the eyes and get tight in the chest thinking about that scene.
posted by sio42 at 6:25 AM on January 15, 2013


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posted by lalochezia at 6:28 AM on January 15, 2013


"I did not live my life in the shadow of the Holocaust"


For all my ideological issues with Israel, it's always clear to me that we must never, ever, ever forget the Holocaust.

...

Forgive and forget seems to me to be the better way in the long run for the peoples of the Earth to learn to get along with each other. Yeah, the Armenians will never forgive and forget, but the de facto situation is the same as if they had. The sins of the father shouldn't be visited on the sons forever. At some point, the people of today have to let go of the past.

posted by three blind mice at 1:49 AM on January 15

Seems to me the point of this post is to forgive and NOT forget.
posted by 6ATR at 6:40 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Forgive and forget seems to me to be the better way in the long run
The Germans, more than any other group I can think of, have admitted, acknowledged, expressed sorrow, and owned their atrocity. I think it has helped them be forgiven and forgive themselves.
posted by Phredward at 7:30 AM on January 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Joe in Australia, quoting from a tv show review: "By this logic the Holocaust becomes an educational experience from which Jews were ethically obliged to graduate summa cum laude, Israel being the proof that they didn't. "Jews know more than anyone that killing civilians is wrong," resounds an unmistakably authorial voice in The Promise. Thus are Jews doubly damned: to the Holocaust itself and to the moral wasteland of having found no humanising redemption in its horrors."

The problem with this equation is that it could easily be used to absolve Jews and specifically Israelis, of committing any human rights violation, anywhere. Plenty of people, Jew and Gentile alike, have perfectly valid concerns and criticisms of Israeli policies. In order to voice them and be listened to, we shouldn't be asked to justify our credibility or prove we're not being antisemitic. That's a path to paranoia and unchecked madness.

As Jews, I truly believe we have an obligation to:
a) Protect and educate ourselves, to prevent another Holocaust
b) Learn from what was done to us and not repeat those atrocities upon others to any degree.
and c) Make sure the world doesn't forget our own attempted genocide. So we can prevent them from happening to us and others.

These three goals are not and should not be considered mutually exclusive. Nor should we be limiting our focus. We should apply the standard as equally as possible, everywhere. To Jew and Gentile alike.

So what does all of this have to do with Mr. Leyson and Mr. Schindler?

Everything.

Mr. Leyson only survived the Holocaust thanks to one person who knew what his government was doing was wrong, had the ability to take action to save lives, and did so at no small risk to himself. While so many of his fellow citizens did nothing or were complicit in murder on a massive scale, Schindler saved more than a thousand souls. Because he felt obligated to subvert an injustice any way he could. It would have been trivially easy for Schindler to turn a blind eye. And he wasn't perfect, by any means. But compared to his fellow Nazis, the man was an absolute saint. We should be learning from his example.

He didn't make excuses. We shouldn't either.
posted by zarq at 10:56 AM on January 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


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posted by Deoridhe at 1:43 PM on January 15, 2013


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posted by honey badger at 1:53 PM on January 15, 2013


Zarq wrote: The problem with this equation is that it could easily be used to absolve Jews and specifically Israelis, of committing any human rights violation, anywhere.

What? No. You just don't get to say that they didn't learn their lesson the last time.

Plenty of people, Jew and Gentile alike, have perfectly valid concerns and criticisms of Israeli policies.

That reminds me of a joke. A man walking past an asylum gets called over by one of the inmates. The inmate - an older woman, well dressed and well-spoken says "Please, you have to help me. I shouldn't be here. My children had me committed because I like sausages." The passerby says "That's ridiculous - I like sausages too!" "Really?" the woman says, breaking into a smile, "You ought to see my collection - I have thousands!"

The point being, that just because something is understandable in the abstract doesn't mean that it isn't an irrational obsession. And anti-Israelism is an irrational obsession. There are 193 countries in the UN. About 15% of UN resolutions concern Israel. In the UNHRC, the world's top-ranked human rights body, more than half the resolutions condemn Israel. One guy I mentioned this to said "But of course - the UNHRC was set up so the anti-Israel motions wouldn't occupy all the time of the General Assembly. That doesn't mean they're obsessed with it." He couldn't understand why I started laughing.

Here's another example: someone who grew up close to one of the death camps in Germany might be moved to consider human rights in his country, or his country's neighbours. He might reflect, for instance, on the Nazi-inspired rhetoric directed against Jews and Roma in Hungary, a country that is only a few hundred miles away. He might also consider although Roma born to foreign parents in Germany are subject to deportation, "ethnic Germans" born outside Germany may be entitled to citizenship by birthright. That would be something local, and pertinent (many Roma were killed in Dachau), and a cause he might actually do something about. But no, what does living near Dachau inspire you to do? Why, criticise Israel. The connection is clear: Dachau is about Jews, Israel is about Jews. Dachau was bad, hence Israel is bad. They didn't learn their lesson the last time.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:15 PM on January 15, 2013


Armenia is one of the poorest countries on earth, cut off from the world (its border with Turkey is closed, primarily due to its insistance that Turkey stop denying the genocide, and it is at war with Azerbaijan, leaving everything imported or exported through the country to go through rural Iran or Georgia).

I've been in Armenia. I've also been in much poorer places. Armenia has people driving terrible Ladas converted to run on gas that sometimes explode. Nepal has very few people in cars. The rest is left as an exercises for the reader.
posted by jaduncan at 10:54 AM on January 16, 2013


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