Leon Leyson passed on from this life January 12, 2013. Growing up, he never thought he’d live beyond his childhood years. He was born Lieb Lejzon in Narewka, Poland, sometime in the year 1929. Unsure of the day, he picked September 15 to celebrate his birthday. He was the youngest of five children born to Moshe and Chanah Lejzon, three brothers, Hershel, Tsalig, and David, along with one sister, Pesza. 

Leon was one of the ten percent of Polish Jews that survived the Holocaust along with his parents, sister, and brother David. The other two most likely died at Auschwitz. From the time he was six years old to around fifteen, he lived in the shadow of the hatred of Nazi Germany. He relates his story in the book, “The Boy on the Wooden Box.” In the book, he attributes his family’s survival to a Nazi by the name of Oskar Schindler. In all, over six million people, men, women, and children were shot, exterminated, or died of starvation all because they were Jewish.

Today, in our modern world, there are still people being persecuted because of their beliefs. In countries like Iran, men and women are raped, imprisoned, and executed all because they are Christian. In addition, Jewish people are still persecuted in certain countries.

I would like to think that our country is different. After all, this is the United States, and we have all types of people living here. Yet there are places where the color of one’s skin can cause you to be treated with contempt. In certain areas, you are treated with prejudice if you are Asian, in other places Hispanic, in some places Polish, and in other areas Indian, both foreign and domestic. In most cases, there is not the threat of death, but anguish imposed on so many is alive and well.

As I look back to our small hometown in the ‘50s and ‘60s, I see now how it was for those whose skin color was darker than mine. I remember the water fountains–whites and colored. There were the signs on restaurants: White’s Only. If your skin was black, the only place you could live in was “colored town.” The newspapers would separate housing listings, schools were segregated, the theater was separated with “colored” kids in the balcony who could only enter and leave by the side door. We all seemed to get along, but as I look back, it bothers me to realize that, like so many others, I was insensitive to those who didn’t look like me. It’s even sadder that those conditions still exist in some ways in the world we live in today.

The Holocaust, Wounded Knee, Nanking, 9-11, “Bloody Sunday,” or a quiet road in Jasper, Texas, all remind us that hatred and prejudice have been and remain a thorn in the side of humanity. For centuries past and those to come, it has been and probably always will be that people make their judgments on what they see outwardly on those around us. 

God, however, as scripture teaches, is “no respecter of persons.” Peter in Acts 10 stated, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation, the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” Acts 10:34-35 (NASB) Later Paul wrote to the Romans, “There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.” Romans 2:9-11 (NASB)

In the book of 1 Samuel, God points out to Samuel how he looks at a man. “But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’” 1 Samuel 16:7 (NASB) Should we look at each other any differently?

In post World War II, there were many songs written to try to bring the world closer together in peace. One such song was written by Jill Jackson-Miller with music by her husband, Sy Miller. It was composed for a youth retreat in California that consisted of various ages and ethnic groups. I don’t hear it sung anymore. Like many camp songs, people tend to make fun of them over the years, but the message of this particular song is one that we should always keep on our hearts, especially as we serve a living God. Most of you reading this have heard it and will probably sing the words as you read them, it’s entitled, “Let There Be Peace On Earth.” Here’s the first part:

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Let There Be Peace on Earth
The peace that was meant to be

With God as our Father
Brothers all are we
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.

Leon Leyson survived the holocaust because a man named Oskar Schindler cared. Irena Sendler, Raul Wallenberg, Frank Foley, and an untold number of anonymous people were instrumental in saving thousands of other Jews. Martin Luther King died for his desire to bring people together. But some of the biggest heroes that have not let prejudice and hatred seep into their lives are those unnamed men and women through history who have shown kindness and love to those who have faced persecution. 

A better world begins with each of us. To rid the world of prejudice and hatred takes each of us stepping forward to do our part in bringing harmony to the world around us. It means that we must take the first step by ridding our own lives of prejudice and hatred. We should continually remind ourselves that God loves us all, and if we are to be like him, we must do the same. 

Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ.







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