May 1, 2008
The indestructible spirit of Holocaust survivors
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Lidia Budgor was born Lola Gryngras in 1925 to a middle-class Chasidic family in the Polish city of Lodz. At 15, she and her family, along with all the city's Jews, were ordered into the ghetto in the Baluty slum. After serving as the family's breadwinner and risking her own life by smuggling food out of the meat factory where she worked, she was denounced and made to pull wagons of excrement to the outskirts of the city. In 1944, the family was sent to Auschwitz; there she lost her family to the gas chambers, and she was moved, eventually, to the Stutthof camp, near Danzig, and then survived the German's death march, against all odds. After the war, she met her husband, Wolf Budgor, in Pomerania. They moved, with a son, to the United States in 1952, and reunited with Wolf's brother in Los Angeles.
Lidia Budgor went on to help found the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum, and in 1959 to establish the Lodzer Organization of Lodz survivors. She is currently president of the council of Holocaust Survivor Organizations.
Leon Leyson was born Leib Lejzon in 1929, the youngest of six children, in northeastern Poland. Nine years later, the family moved to Krakow, just before the German invasion. The family was ordered into the ghetto, where Leon helped keep his family fed, dividing single slices of bread among them, by running errands for the elderly. The family was also helped by Oskar Schindler, who had hired Leon's father and brother to work for no pay but allowed them to leave the ghetto and get scraps of food. The family eventually was divided in various deportations; some members survived, however, in the Plaszow labor camp, because Schindler put them on his famous list, bringing them to his factory in Czechoslovakia, from where they were liberated in 1945. In a displaced persons' camp, Leon finally resumed the education he'd been forced to leave behind when he was 10, and when the family moved to the United States, he earned a high school diploma and college degree.
Leon Leyson taught for 39 years at Huntington Park High School. He also married, became the father of two and the grandfather of three. Since the film "Schindler's List" appeared in 1993, he has become a lecturer in schools and universities.
Fifty of Aron's photos from the project, along with text written by Harran from the interviews, are currently included in an exhibition honoring Sol and Fay Chase, Holocaust survivors, featuring members of the '1939' Club, a Holocaust survivors organization, on view at the Leatherby Libraries at Chapman University.
The project, planned to be expanded to a book, was made possible by a generous gift from Irving and Nancy Chase.
Los Angeles photographer Bill Aron has chronicled Jewish communities in the former Soviet Union, Cuba, Jerusalem, and throughout the United States. He can be reached at www.billaron.com
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