Leslie Vertes was born February 18, 1924 in the village of Ajak (Hungary). His father was a shoemaker who worked alongside his wife. Leslie was 14 years old when the family moved to Budapest, where he was unable to finish the last year of high school and go to university due to the prevailing anti-Jewish legislation. He instead went to work for his father. In 1940, Leslie’s father was forced into a Hungarian army labour battalion and in 1943 the family learned of his death. In 1944 Nazi Germany occupied Hungary and a few months later Leslie too was pressed into forced labour service. After six months, he and several friends were able to escape, and Leslie secured false identification papers and went into hiding in Budapest. He managed to evade the fascist authorities and survive the bombings and starvation. When the Soviet army liberated Budapest in January 1945, Leslie was among the thousands of civilians who were deported from countries occupied by the Soviet army for forced labour in the Soviet Union. For the first three months, Leslie worked in a quarry under very hard conditions and later he worked in construction. Due to the lack of proper food, Leslie developed scurvy at the age of 21 and would have died if it were not for the heroic efforts of a Soviet doctor. Leslie returned home in 1947, after more than two years in forced labor. He learned that his mother and sister had left Hungary for Israel. In 1952, Leslie married Vera, a fellow Holocaust survivor, and they had a son a few years later. The family escaped from Hungary after the 1956 Hungarian revolution and arrived in Montreal in 1957. Leslie found a job in a shoe factory, working his way up from leather cutter, while Vera worked as a dressmaker. Their son became a medical doctor and he lives in Toronto with his wife and their three children. Leslie has been a volunteer speaker at the Montreal Holocaust Museum since 2004 and has shared his story both at the Museum and in schools with thousands of students. That now includes a zoom with Crestwood in March 2021, when Mr. Hawkins and Mr. Masters’ students were able to interview Leslie.
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