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I learned part of this story from my friend
Tom Weakley, a Vermont storyteller.
I tell my story with his permission.
Has a stranger ever told you something you weren’t quite sure you should believe, something that didn’t sound like the truth?
That happened to my husband and me on vacation 20 years ago in Paris. We were eating in a small restaurant where the tables were right next to each other. It wasn’t long before we realized that the two men sitting next to us were also Americans. So we chatted with them a bit.
They were a father and son, Leopold and Fred Page, in the leather goods business in Beverly Hills. They gave us their business cards. I still have them.
Then the father, Leopold, told us that a book had been written about how he and others had been saved from the Nazis during World War II. That was what I wasn’t sure I should believe. After all, I could have told him that I had been a Rockette. But I acted like I believed him, and wrote down the name of the book. Leopold told us it was for sale at an English bookstore nearby.
Later, when shopping in that bookstore for a book to read on the plane flight home, I found that book. And the dedication mentioned Leopold Page: “Who by zeal and persistence caused this book to be written.”
I was very happy I had been polite to Leopold in the restaurant. And I felt rather special that he had told me his story.
Years later, when I heard Tom Weakley tell his version of this story, I found out that Leopold Page told his story to literally everyone he met, especially to writers and people connected to the movies who frequented his leather goods store in Beverly Hills.
After over 30 years of telling his story, in 1980 (four years before we met), Leopold told it again to an Australian buying a new briefcase. When there was a delay in getting the credit card purchase approved, Leopold asked,
“What do you do?”
“I’m a writer.”
“I know a wonderful story. A story of humanity, man to man. This is a story for you.”
The writer grimaced internally – he had often heard that sentence – this is a story for you -- but never from someone so vivid, so full of life as Leopold. Leopold continued with his story.
"I was saved, and my wife was saved, by a Nazi. I was a Jew imprisoned with Jews. So a Nazi saves me, and more important, saves my wife. So although he's a Nazi, to me he's Jesus Christ.”
The credit card purchase still had not been approved, so Leopold took the writer to a back room with two filing cabinets filled with information about that Nazi and the people he had saved. Leopold pulled out some papers, and let the writer look at them. The writer showed some interest, so Leopold Xeroxed the pages and gave them to the writer. Then he asked where the writer was staying. Leopold kept calling the writer every day until the writer left the country, trying to persuade the writer to write a book about his story. When back in Australia, the writer finally called Leopold, saying he was interested.
The two of them took a trip to Poland together, so Leopold could show the writer where the events of the story took place. On the way back home, they stopped in several cities to interview others saved by that Nazi. Meeting with a group in a restaurant in New York City, one woman told the writer that she couldn't leave home without a crust of bread in her pocketbook, just in case she were loaded unexpectedly into a truck and shipped away. Other women at that table nodded and almost shamefully took out crusts from their pocketbooks. Over thirty years later and they were still haunted by the Holocaust.
The book was published in 1982. The head of a movie studio in Hollywood saw the review in The New York Times and sent it to one of his directors, a young man who had already made 4 blockbuster hits – adventure and sci fi movies.
The director agreed to make the movie eventually, when he was old enough to handle such material. So the head of the movie studio bought the movie rights.
When Leopold found out about the movie deal, he called the director’s office, asking when the movie was going to be made. The director told Leopold it will take him a decade before he is ready to make the movie.
Leopold called the director’s office every week for 11 years, asking when the movie would be made. Remember, the book dedication – Leopold’s zeal and persistence? Each time Leopold got to speak to the director, Leopold told him,
“I promise you, this movie will win you an Oscar.”
Leopold Page was right -- the movie did win the director an Oscar.
In fact, the movie “Schindler’s List” won Steven Spielberg two Oscars – one for best director, and one for best movie. The first person Steven Spielberg thanked from the podium at the 1993 Academy Awards was Leopold Page:
“I owe him such a debt. He has carried the story of Oscar Schindler to all of us. Were it not for Leopold Page, Oscar Schindler would only be known by those whom he saved, and by scholars and historians."
Leopold Page was interviewed by a reporter who referred to him “a Holocaust survivor.”
Leopold corrected the reporter: "No, I am not a Holocaust survivor. I am a witness to the truth.”
Copyright 2006 by Kathryn Eike Dudding. All Rights Reserved.