Seven Years on the Run in Wartime Europe
Leap into Darkness is the sweeping memoir of a Jewish boy's survival, who survived the Holocaust by escaping from the Nazis not once, but seven times during his almost seven-year ordeal crisscrossing war-torn Europe.
Leo Bretholz fledhis native city of Vienna, Austria in 1938 at age of 17, when his
motherurgedhim to leave after the Germans' annexation (Anschluss) of Austria.
He swam across the Sauer River to Luxembourg on a chilly October night and
eventuallywas transportedto Antwerp, Belgium, wherehe remained for 18 months. When Belgium was invaded in May 1940,he was arrested as an "enemy alien," and
sent, along with many others, to an internment camp in Southern France.
Heescaped from that camp and was on the run for the next fiveyears,
constantly motivated by fear of being deported to a death camp.
In 1942Leo Bretholz and a friend escaped from a deportation train headed for
Auschwitz, originating in Drancy, the infamous transit camp near Paris.
He arrived in the U.S. in 1947and married in Baltimore, Maryland.
In 1998he wrotehis memoir entitled, "Leap Into Darkness,” co-authored by Michael Olesker. It chronicles the events duringhis years on the run in wartime Europe.
In 1999 the US Holocaust Museum in Washington chosehis book to be used
fortheir fundraising efforts.He ismost rewarded by the fact that numerous
school districts in the country have acquired "Leap Into Darkness" as a teachingtool for European History/Holocaust studies.
In 2005 "Leap Into Darkness" was translated into the German language and published in Vienna by Löcker Verlag under the title of "Flucht In die Dunkelheit."
From Publishers Weekly
Bretholz was 17 when, in 1938, the Germans took over his native Austria. His mother, more realistic than other relatives, saw disaster and insisted that he escape, which is what he did for the next seven years, traveling not only through Germany and Luxembourg but to Belgium, France and, briefly, Switzerland, to jails and numerous internment camps. Bretholz, relying often on his youthful agility and daring to save himself from much worse; escaped from a train headed for Auschwitz in 1942. He spent the last years of the war working for the French Resistance, emigrating in 1947 to Baltimore, where he ran a bookstore (frequented by co-author and Baltimore Sun columnist Olesker). Whether telling of running or hiding, every paragraph in his memoir is harrowing. In one wrenching story, he tells of a young female friend who is menaced by a gendarme while he is forced to stay hidden, "crouched on the floor, helpless, emasculated, sickened." Bretholz is also smartly observant of the Austrians, (“who will call themselves,"'first victims,' when the world loses its memory."); opportunistic Swiss; and the French, so many of whom claimed to be Resistance. In the midst of many improbable escapes, there is also a sense of almost exhilarating determination." I was now a miraculous athlete, a professional escape artist, a young man in perpetual flight. I was indomitable. Also, I was too terrified not to run for my life." For a man who assumed many false identities, the supreme irony came when Bretholz learned his true identity just six years ago, an event that provides a fitting climax to this inspiring and moving book.