Many six-year-olds have an imaginary playmate, but Leon had an imaginary chocolate bar named Milka, a talisman that he turned to in time of trouble.
The Holocaust survivor fled with his family from Poland in 1940 when the Nazis overtook the country and started rounding up and killing Jews.
The young boy was convinced that Milka possessed magic powers that could save his family from certain death.
Milka was the real name of a candy bar manufactured in his father’s Suchard chocolate factory. When visiting the factory, he would dip his arm in the tub and lick it off. “It usually made me sick,” he recalls.
The Park La Brea resident now tells the story of his escape to school children who visit the Museum of Tolerance in West Los Angeles.
At first, Prochnik felt his story was too childish to recount to the public, but the response from the middle school students he talked to has been affirmative.
His program, titled “Remember It Forever,” appeals to both children and their parents, and he would like to tell it to as many students as possible.
“Chocolate is the ingredient that first captures the children’s imagination,” explains the former movie director and screenwriter.
He tells them about how Milka “helped” the family’s escape through Lithuania and finally to Japan before boarding a boat to Canada.
“I’d been enrolled in school until my Polish/Jewish parents could secure transit visas that would allow us to continue our escape from the Nazis.” Thanks to Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania, the family was given the visas, a copy of which Prochnik shows in his speech.
His Power Point talk, which comes after students tour the museum, has inspired youngsters to send him drawings based on the speech.
One student included a message in his drawing: “Thank you for sharing your story with us. So now we can share it. You are the bravest person I know.”
Another endorsement came from Gigi Bizar, a seventh grade history teacher at Westridge School.
“Leon brings history alive with his story of hope and magic. Our entire seventh grade was mesmerized by his engaging style. He has such a unique and important story to tell. Schools will be thrilled if you have him come and tell it.”
Prochnik has created a website rememberitforever.org.
“It was meant to be that I would create a program so that youth could view a Holocaust experience through the eyes of a child,” he said.