The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Leslie Meisels

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Born
February 20, 1927 Nàdudvar, Hungary

Map of Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia

Immigrated
1958 Toronto, Ontario

When 17-year-old Leslie Meisels insisted that his mother and two brothers join a transport leaving Debrecen, Hungary, to go who knows where, that decision luckily put them among the roughly 20,000 “exchange Jews” whose lives had been bartered for cash and military equipment in a secret deal with Adolf Eichmann.

About Leslie

Leslie Meisels was born on February 20, 1927, in Nádudvar, Hungary. His whole immediate family survived the Holocaust. He immigrated to the US in 1958, following the Hungarian Revolution, and to Canada in 1967. He married Eva Silber in 1961 and they live in Toronto.

Photos and Artifacts

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    Leslie at one-and-a-half. Nádudvar, 1928.

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    Leslie, age three, 1930.

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    Leslie and his brothers in 1938. From left to right: George, Leslie and Frank.

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    Leslie's only photo of his paternal grandmother, taken while they were visiting their extended family before the war. Back row, left to right: Leslie’s great-aunt Emma; his brother Frank; Leslie; and his cousin Magda. Front row, left to right: Leslie’s grandmother; his cousin Pista; and Leslie’s great-aunt Juliska.

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    The identity papers issued to Leslie by the American Army after his liberation. Hillersleben, June 1945.

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    The identity papers issued to Leslie by the American Army after his liberation. Hillersleben, June 1945.

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    The Meisels family in their backyard soon after reuniting. Leslie is standing at the back. Left to right in front: his brother Frank; his mother, Etelka and father, Lajos; and his brother George. Nádudvar, 1945.

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    Leslie, age twenty-one. 1948.

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    Leslie and his brothers, circa 1955. From left to right: Frank, George and Leslie.

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    Leslie in Austria, while waiting for his visa to the US. 1958.

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    Leslie and Eva (née Silber), with their parents, celebrating the couple’s engagement. From left to right: Leslie’s mother, Etelka; his father, Lajos; Eva; Leslie; and Eva’s parents, Irene and Erno Sugar. November 1960.

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    Leslie and Eva’s engagement photo. November 26, 1960.

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    Leslie and Eva’s wedding. May 1961.

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    Leslie's daughters, Judy (left) and Edith (right). Toronto, 1970.

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    Leslie and his family in front of their Toronto home, 1988. From left to right: Leslie's daughter Judy; his wife, Eva; Leslie; and his daughter Edith.

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    Leslie's daughter Edith in front of the house where he grew up. Nádudvar, 1991.

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    Leslie's daughter Edith graduating from law school. Left to right: Leslie's father-in-law, Erno; Edith; Leslie; his wife, Eva; and his daughter Judy. 1991.

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    Leslie (right) celebrating his daughter Judy's wedding with his brother Frank. August 29, 2004.

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    Leslie and his wife, Eva, celebrating Mother’s Day with their children and grandchildren. Back row (left to right): Leslie's son-in-law Stuart Levson; his son-in-law Philip Dover; his daughter Edith; and Leslie. Front row (left to right): Leslie's daughter Judy, holding her son, Jordan; Edith’s daughter Jessica; Eva; and Edith’s daughter Rachel. Toronto, 2005.

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    Leslie with his grandson, Jordan. December 2006.

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    Leslie and Eva on their fiftieth wedding anniversary, at the vow renewal celebration their children organized. Standing in back, left to right: Granddaughter Jessica; daughter Edith; Edith's husband, Philip; grandson Jordan; Judy; Judy's husband, Stuart; and granddaughter Jaimee. In front: Eva; Leslie; and granddaughter Rachel. May 2011.

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    Leslie's honorary membership in the 30th Infantry Division Veterans of World War II, awarded after he was reunited with his liberators. Hudson Falls, NY, 2009.

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    Leslie's certificate of recognition from the Ontario government and the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, given in honour of his many achievements and his contribution to Holocaust education.

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    Leslie, second from left, is pictured with then Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty (far left), MPP Eric Hoskins and MPP Monte Kwinter (far right). Toronto, April 26, 2010.

The Book

Cover of Suddenly the Shadow Fell

Suddenly the Shadow Fell

That night, a fierce air battle developed around and above our train. Guns were blazing, bombs were falling…. In the morning, instead of the enemy, US soldiers found us and heard our cries: “Oh God, we are free!”

Explore more of Leslie’s story in Re:Collection

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Suddenly the Shadow Fell

Surrounded by Silence

At the end of the day, when we were marched from the ghetto to the railway station, I was unprepared for what I experienced out on the main street. It was lined with people, several dozen of whom were members of the Arrow Cross and were laughing and clapping loudly, showing their happiness that the Jews were being taken away and yelling insulting, derogatory remarks. Perhaps they were already thinking how wonderful it would be the next morning to loot our abandoned houses. Behind them, hundreds of people stood silently, which was painfully disturbing. Up until then, I had thought better of most people in my hometown.

In central Hungary, there was no uprising against the Nazis or their collaborators, not like there was in Slovakia or Poland. Since the beginning of the 1920s, Hungarian society had been homogeneous, a regulated police state, and people probably didn’t dare to risk the wrath of those loudmouth antisemites. Even with that in mind, this behaviour was still a blow to us; their silence was a shock that has stayed with me all my life.

The next morning, we arrived in Debrecen, where the gendarmes were concentrating the Jewish people from the smaller ghettos before deporting them somewhere else by train. These larger ghettos were brickyards or similar establishments on the edges of the city; we were put into a hide-processing plant, a tannery that was worse than a brickyard would have been. Because the hides were processed by soaking them in bins of water until the hair fell off, the place had only outer walls; it didn’t have a roof because rain or snow was a welcome addition to the processing operation. For the Germans and their Hungarian associates, it was a good enough place to keep us in.

I cannot recall how many roofless buildings there were, but between three and five thousand people had been amassed. The one we were forced to stay in was so crowded that the five of us were only able to put down our belongings. At night, my grandmother and my little brothers crouched down on them, trying to sleep. My mother and I had to stand, planting our feet among them, leaning against each other to try and sleep or nap, whatever we could manage. On top of this inhumane compression, it started to rain on the first night and continued to rain steadily for two days and nights. We stood in mud, soaked to the skin.

In the daytime, we were permitted to roam within the enclosed area. I saw terribly sadistic gendarmes, strangers who had been brought in from other parts of the country to eliminate the possibility of leniency toward people they might know. They beat people, punishing them for even the slightest infraction. On the first day I saw one of the oldest people from my town, Louis Angyal, who was very hard of hearing, feeble and near-blind, walking with a white cane in the middle of the yard where freight cars stood with open doors. While he shuffled around in the yard, a guard yelled at him to stop, but since he didn’t hear, he kept walking. After the third yell, they grabbed him, beat him and hung him up by his wrists from the corners of one of the freight car’s doors. He lost consciousness within minutes and they didn’t even take him down. They left him there to show others what would happen to those who didn’t obey orders. They did this only because we were Jews.