Jolson, Leon

A survivor of the sinking of the Cap Arcona

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Laibusz Działowski was sixteen when the truck taking him away drove past his family home in Bełchatów and he saw his parents and sisters standing tearfully at the window. Only his sisters survived. Vivid descriptions of atrocious cruelties he witnessed and suffered in various camps reveal his enormous resilience, tremendous courage and strength. A long death march ended in Neustadt on Lübeck Bay. There, with thousands of other starving survivors, he was loaded into the gigantic hull of the former luxury liner, the Cap Arcona.

When aircraft began dropping bombs onto the ship, in a feat barely credible given his condition and the circumstances, Laibusz pulled himself onto the burning deck by a rope, snatched a rubber dinghy from German soldiers and paddled ashore through a haze of gunfire, the sea around him filled with Jews trying to stay afloat. On shore, he was shot at by SS and Hitler Youth, but the British army rescued him – one of 350 of around 4,500 Jews to survive the sinking of the ship.

After assiduous searching, he was reunited with his childhood sweetheart, Lola, following her liberation from Bergen-Belsen. They married shortly after and made their way to Melbourne, where two children, Henry and Sandra, were born.

Leon Jolson became a successful property developer in Melbourne, leaving two significant landmarks, the Preston Market and the Leonda reception centre.

After Lola died at a young age, Leon remarried. He returned to Poland in 1990 to bear painful witness, and again in 1995 with his grandson, Stephen. In 2000 Henry Jolson, OAM QC, attended a memorial service in Neustadt on his father’s behalf before his own early death in 2013.

Leon’s legacy includes six grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren. To them, his story is a source of tremendous pride, strength, and immense gratitude.