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Youngest Schindler’s List survivor to receive honorary doctorate

January 27, 2011

Leon Leyson, at a student gathering on campus, reacts to a surprise announcement of his honorary doctorate. Photo/McKenzi Taylor

Leon Leyson, a longtime friend of Chapman University and the youngest surviving member of the well-known Schindler’s List, the roster of names representing the Jews saved from the Nazis by Oskar Schindler during World War II, will be awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters at the university’s May commencement ceremonies.

Chancellor Danielle Struppa made the announcement today at the conclusion of Leyson’s talk before a group of visiting high school students on campus. Leyson, 81, was visibly surprised by the announcement, but responded with a joke.

“I’m really speechless. I’ll be a doctor, so if you have a headache, come see me,” he told the roomful of students.

Leyson has often been a speaker for programs hosted by the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education. He was 13 years old when his father brought him into the factory of Oskar Schindler, the German businessman portrayed by Liam Neeson in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning 1993 movie Schindler’s List. Because they were protected by Schindler, Leyson, his parents and older brother and sister all survived the war. Two other brothers and all of Leyson’s extended family were killed. Recounting his family’s experiences is always difficult, he said, but it’s important that student groups like the one he met with today hear the stories.

“I do this in honor of my parents and in honor of my family who have no voice. I’m one of the final voices left for them,” he said.

Chancellor Struppa said the university is immensely grateful to Leyson for his service to the Rodgers Center and the cause of education.

“To award an honorary doctorate to such a remarkable man is an honor and a privilege,” the chancellor said.

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