Fullerton College Centennial


Partner With Us!

Get Involved




When Leon Leyson arrived in Los Angeles with his family in 1949, he intentionally left his Fedora Hat on the shelf above his seat on the train from which he was disembarking. At age twenty, he said, he wanted to leave his past behind; he wanted to embrace a new future in America. Much later in life he said, “I did not live my life in the shadow of the Holocaust.”

It wasn’t until the publishing of Thomas Keneally's book, Schindler's Ark, and the release of Steven Spielberg’s film that the world learned that Leon Leyson of Fullerton, California, was one of the youngest Schindler’s List survivors. Born in Krakow, Poland, Leon was 10 years old when the Germans invaded Poland, and he and his family, like other Jews, were forced into the ghetto. At age 13 his father brought him to the factory of Oskar Schindler, who called him “Little Leyson” and provided him with a box atop which he could reach the workbench where he would work. No Nazi would accuse Schindler of protecting someone who couldn’t even reach the workbench. Because of Schindler’s relentless protection, Leon, his parents, older brother, and a sister survived the war. Two other brothers and all members of his extended family were killed by the Nazis.

After immigrating to the United States, Leon served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, studied at Los Angeles Community College, Cal State Long Beach, and Pepperdine University. He became a teacher of industrial arts and counselor at Huntington Park High School, where he worked for 39 years. He once remarked that his education was stolen from him at age 10, and his return to education came at a junior college.

In 1993 after the release of Schindler’s List, a Los Angeles Times reporter found Leon, and encouraged him to tell his story. His first audience was at Temple Beth Tikvah in Fullerton, but that engagement led to presentations at middle schools, high schools, churches, veterans’ groups, Chapman University, Fullerton College, and for audiences all across the United States. Many of the thousands of listeners have said that one of the Leon’s most unforgettable stories was that of his brother, Tsalig, age 17, refusing protection from Schindler to stay with his girlfriend on the train that would take to them to the concentration camp and certain death. For many of his audience members, the miracle of Leon Leyson is that in spite of the horrors of the Holocaust that he experienced every day of his youth he became a man of exceptional grace, compassion, humility, and gentleness. He invited all of us to embrace the character and life story we were meant to live. He asked us to remember that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary lives. "A hero,” he said, “ is an ordinary human being who does the best of things in the worst of times."

He met and fell in love with Elisabeth Burns at Huntington Park High School, and they were married in 1965. Their children are Stacy Leyson Wilfong and Daniel Tsalig Leyson, and they have six grandchildren. Lis Leyson taught English and served as English Department Coordinator and Vice President of Instruction at Fullerton College.

Honors and Awards

  • Associate of Arts, Los Angeles City College
  • Bachelor of Arts, California State University Long Beach
  • Master of Arts, Pepperdine University
  • Honorary Doctorate, Chapman University, 2011.