“The Boy on the Wooden Box,” written by Holocaust survivor Leon Leyson, was published posthumously Aug. 27 with help from one of Chapman’s own.
Marilyn Harran, director of the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education and close friend to Leyson, was a contributor to the book before an editor received his manuscript in January.
Harran worked with Leyson and his wife, Elizabeth, by providing support, fact-checking his work, and after Leyson passed away Jan. 12, collaborated with an editor to bring about the final version of the manuscript.
The book is a memoir of Leon’s childhood and describes how it changed dramatically as a result of the German invasion of Poland, Harran said.
“It was only when the film, ‘Schindler’s List’ came out that someone finally discovered Leyson, and that he began to tell his story,” Harran said.
Harran said Leyson’s story deserved to reach a wider audience.
“Every time I would see Leon, I would say, ‘Leon, the book, Leon the book.’ He didn’t think anyone would be interested in his story, but I kept on encouraging him,” she said.
Harran said the purpose of publishing Leyson’s book is to draw interest about those who risked their lives during the Holocaust.
“The book discusses the struggles that he and his family went through in order to survive and the very fortuitous encounter that his father had with Oskar Schindler, and the role that Schindler had in saving their lives,” Harran said.
Leyson’s father was one of the first workers hired by Oskar Schindler in his Emalia factory in Krakow. Oskar Schindler saved Leon’s mother, brother David and sister Pesza along with more than 1,000 other Jews during the Holocaust by bringing them to work for him.
Leyson had a special relationship with Chapman, speaking several times to religious, history and freshman foundation courses, and receiving an honorary doctoral degree in 2011.
“The book was accepted the day after he died,” Harran said. “Things happen at unusual times, but it’s up to you to decide whether or not there’s some kind of connection. I wouldn’t be surprised if Leon was guiding the book, even after he wasn’t here.”
Daniel Leyson, son of Leyson and water polo coach at University of California, Davis, said he knows in his heart that the publication of his father’s book would have happened either way, with or without his death.
“I am so lucky to have this remembrance of my father’s life. I hope that his story is an inspiration to all who read it,” Leyson said.
Mara Leshin, senior communication studies major and Holocaust history minor, said she was grateful to have had the opportunity to hear Leyson speak multiple times.
“Leyson shared his stories so openly, and was willing to answer any questions students had,” Leshin said. “I know his experience coming in and speaking to our classes was impactful not only for me, but for everyone and anyone who heard his story.”