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Leon Greenman was born in London Whitechapel 1910. His parents were also born in London, his paternal grandparents were Dutch and maternal grandparents were from White Russia.
He spent most of his early years in Rotterdam and later returned to London to set up a bookshop with his wife's father. Esther (Leon's wife) and Leon later lived in Rotterdam with Leon travelling backwards and forwards from London for business. In 1938 while in London Leon saw people digging trenches in the streets and queuing for gas masks. He hurried back to Holland that night intending to collect his wife and return to England as the whispers of war were getting even louder.
The infamous speech by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was broadcast in which he said "consequently there will be no war with Germany" and they decided that they would perhaps leave in 6 months. It didn't go that way at all.......
... The last Leon saw of his wife and son was them standing between other women and children in an open truck. ...
The 10th May 1940 saw the centre of Rotterdam destroyed by German bombing. Leon left his British passport and money with Dutch friends who assured him they would keep them safely It didn't go that way at all.......
In 1942 when Leon was called up for labouring in Germany he had no official papers to prove that he was British as his friends had burned his documents through fear of being found out. On the evening of the 8th October 1942 the Greenmans were taken out of their home and put on a coach that went from street to street collecting other Jewish families.
They ended up at Auschwitz - Birkenau - one of the largest extermination camps established by the Nazis. The last Leon saw of his wife and son was them standing between other women and children in an open truck.
... The evacuation of the men from one camp to another meant a five day journey in horrendously overcrowded open cattle trucks. Each morning corpses were removed from the trucks. ...
What followed was three years of intensive labour in several camps during which time Leon saw many, many deaths. A 90 kilometres Death march from one camp to another saw men being shot as they stumbled and fell. Leon's life was undoubtedly saved by a French man who helped drag him along when he stumbled. The evacuation of the men from one camp to another meant a five day journey in horrendously overcrowded open cattle trucks. Each morning corpses were removed from the trucks.
Leon was in Buchenwald when the American army liberated the camp on 11th April 1945.
Leon eventually returned to London and spent years as a market trader . He found that information regarding the horrors of the extermination camps was little known by people in England and he began giving talks about his experiences the year after he returned from the camps. At the age of 92 he still fights racist injustice of all types.
"Young and old alike must learn about the Holocaust as warning against the dangers of racism. There is no difference in colour or religion. If I had survived to betray the dead to would have been better not to survive. We must not forget. Please do not forget."
The Jewish Museum, London has a travelling exhibition that documents Leon's life. For further details contact 020 8349 1143 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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