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LEONARD VIS

HOLLAND

Photography by David Amoils

Leonard came to Toronto in 1967 because of a company transfer from Young & Rubicam, an international advertising agency which he had joined in New York in 1958. He met his future wife Dorothy when he rented an apartment on Balliol Street, where she was the rental agent. They have been married for 47 years.

In 1940, when Leonard was nine years old, his native country, The Netherlands, was invaded by Germany. Almost at once, anti-Jewish measures and restrictions were imposed by the occupying forces. After the yellow star was made mandatory to wear on all clothing in May 1942, round-ups and subsequent deportations to Eastern Europe resulted.

His parents decided that they and their three children should go into hiding to avoid deportation, and were supported by friends. Leonard, a “Hidden Child” at 13 years old, was caught by the Gestapo in his hiding place, together with 26 others. He managed to escape from the train that was to take him to the Dutch transit camp Westerbork. Through an underground network, he was placed with a small family - a young greengrocer, his pregnant wife and their four-year-old son. The house was very small, the rent was $2 per week and there was no bathroom, only an outhouse. He stayed with them until May 1945 when Holland was liberated by the Canadian Army.

Leonard’s whole family survived the war thanks to the help of some very devoted people. Of the Jewish population in Holland, about 82 per cent were murdered. When Leonard’s father registered his family after the war with the civic authority, the welcome was astonishingly chilly: “Oh, you are still around, eh?”

After military service in Holland, with a tour of duty in Germany, Leonard immigrated to the United States. Upon arriving, he was quickly drafted in the U.S. Army and a tour of duty in Austria and Germany followed. His sister moved to Israel, while his brother and parents stayed in Holland. There is still a Jewish presence today in Holland, although the current climate is increasingly anti-Semitic and the wearing of kippahs in public is actively discouraged.

After a career in advertising, Leonard became an estate planner in 1979. His particular interest is helping clients review their wills.

As a member of the Speakers Bureau of the Holocaust Centre in Toronto, Leonard is a much sought-after speaker for schools and adult audiences.