was 12 years old when he made a simple decision that saved his life. The Nazi guards at the Krakow, Poland ghetto where he was living pulled him out of a group of prisoners headed for factory work and told him he would be leaving later, without his family. His friends who were also left behind decided to hide, but Leyson snuck past the guard to rejoin his mother.

"I was just doing that because I had seen my mother's group leave, and I was going to be the last one by myself," he said. "I was a boy that wanted to go with my parents."

That quick decision and countless others during the Holocaust, kept him alive while so many around him died.

"Those people who remained in the ghetto were mostly murdered," he said. "None of my friends that went into hiding survived."

Leyson, the youngest member of "Schindler's List," shared his memories of the Holocaust with Ashlanders at Havurah Shir Hadash on Saturday night.

After he left the ghetto, Leyson worked in an enamelware factory owned by Oskar Schindler, a Nazi known for saving the lives of some 1,200 Jews, and the subject of the 1993 Academy Award-winning film "Schindler's List."

After the movie was released, Leyson was encouraged to talk about his life during the war.

"Before that, I had a feeling that nobody would be interested in my experience, and so I never told anybody," he said.

Now at the age of 78, he said he's being asked more than ever to share his story, because there are so few survivors left. For students just learning about the Holocaust, he feels his talks add an important element to what they learn in school.

"It probably doesn't matter much what I say, but they can remember seeing someone who actually survived the Holocaust," he said. "They shouldn't come because I'm such a wonderful speaker."

Leyson survived the war along with his parents and older brother and sister, who were all protected by Schindler. The rest of his extended family was killed.

Since coming to the U.S. in 1949, Leyson has served in the U.S. Army and worked as a teacher for 39 years. He is now a member of the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education Advisory Board at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. He lives in nearby Fullerton, Calif.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .