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Schindler's youngest survivor shares his moving side of the story
on 28 January 2014
I didn't plan on reading this on Holocaust Memorial Day, but it's very apt that I did, and makes it all the more poignant.
Most reading this review will know the name if not the story of Oskar Schindler. This is the other half of the story - the memoir of one of those he saved, one of the youngest on the List. So small at fifteen he had to stand on a box to work Schindler's machinery, Leon Leyson managed to convince the Nazis he was essential to the production line and survive the War.
The story complements Keneally's book beautifully, with some familiar scenes described from young Leon's perspective that make the terrible evil perpetrated more real. We see life inside the ghetto, the concentration camp, how families struggled to eat, to hide, to make it to tomorrow.
Leon's voice is brave. Tragic. Even uplifting. Like 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' his voice is that of an innocent boy ripped from childhood by some of the worst atrocities mankind has ever enacted. The danger to his family is real and immediate, their saviour clearly admired and adored by Leon.
It's a wonderful book - graphic enough to bring tears to your eyes but not graphic enough to prohibit upper primary and secondary students from engaging with it and being able to access the history within. It would be a superb addition to the curriculum, alongside Morris Gleitzman's Once/Then/Now trilogy.
One of my favourite segments are the opening few chapters where Leon looks back at the pre-war childhood he remembers and how the early days of the war felt exciting and distant. How things change for ten-year-old Leon is stark and upsetting but well-told.
So sad, so uplifting, such a powerful reminder that we can all make a difference to other people's lives. And that the instinct to survive doesn't mean losing our humanity.