July 21, 2013
His escape from the Nazis was more like “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” than “The Sound of Music,” Leon Prochnik admits.
Prochnik was 6 when his family fled Poland as Hitler’s army invaded the country. As they were smuggled out of the country, they left behind a luxurious life made possible by their Krakow chocolate-making business.
“There was this big, giant tub of chocolate in the factory” that was used in Milka candy bars, Prochnik said. “When nobody was looking, I’d stick my arm in up to my elbow and then lick off the chocolate.”
Now 80 and a resident of the Park La Brea complex in the Fairfax district, Prochnik uses that vat of chocolate as a centerpiece during talks about the Holocaust that he gives to schoolchildren.
“Today’s kids could care less about the Holocaust. It does not register with them,” he said. “But kids love chocolate, and they pay attention when I tell them how that tub of chocolate helped me get through that dark chapter in human history.”
His life was once as sweet as the chocolate the family produced, Prochnik tells his young audiences.
“It made us very well off. Life was very nice for me. We had a full-time nanny, a cook and rode in limousines. We had a four-story house and lots of toys,” he tells them. “I was a very happy child.”
His family was on vacation when the Nazis swept into Poland. He recalled that his father received a telegram advising him that Hitler’s troops were rounding up Jews and that the family should not return to Krakow. The news hit the family hard.