Saturday, January 16, 2010

"Leap into Darkness: Seven Years on the Run in Wartime Europe" by Leo Bretholz; Escaped Nazis 7 times, all over Europe, swam rivers, climbed Alps, etc

Barnes & Noble Review:


A harrowing, action-packed account of the author's series of audacious escapes from the Nazis' Final Solution--"riveting...a fascinating and moving piece of history" (Library Journal).

Young Leo Bretholz survived the Holocaust by escaping from the Nazis (and others) not once, but seven times during his almost seven-year ordeal crisscrossing war-torn Europe. He leaped from trains, outran police, and hid in attics, cellars, anywhere that offered a few more seconds of safety. First he swam the River Sauer at the German-Belgian border. Later he climbed the Alps on feet so battered they froze to his socks--only to be turned back at the Swiss border. He crawled out from under the barbed wire of a French holding camp, and hid in a village in the Pyrenees while gendarmes searched it. And in the dark hours of one November morning, he escaped from a train bound for Auschwitz.

Leap into Darkness is the sweeping memoir of one Jewish boy's survival, and of the family and the world he left behind.

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 relied often on his youthful agility and daring to save himself from much worse; he 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 coauthor 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 ("`First victims,' they will call themselves 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. 40 b&w illustrations. (Nov.)


Leo Bretholz arrived in the United States in 1947 and settled in Baltimore, where he worked in the textile business and then as a bookseller for many years. He continues to lecture extensively about his Holocaust memories. Michael Olesker is a columnist for the Baltimore Sun and a commentator on Baltimore's CBS affiliate, WJZ-TV.


  1. Amazing that anyone can recall and then tell the horrors of personal wars on humans. It should be required reading for school. Thank you.

  2. My extended family have met Leo at Synagogue, and his father would be proud.

    DNA research on 39 of Hitler's closest relatives done in 2010 shows der Führer vom dritten Reich was himself 1/4 Jewish (Jud). His father was the illegitimate offspring of a maid (Maria Schickelgrüber) and a 19-year old Jewish man, (Frankenberger). Hitler should have been removed from power long before he himself passed a law prohibiting Jews with less Jewish heritage than himself from working in government. Jews don't believe in hell, but dieses Scheißkopf Hitler did his best to make one here. Kinda makes "Mein Kampf" ring a little hollow now, doesn't it?

    Oh, gee, sorry... was this blogspot only for pure Arryans? Turn off Beck's tirades about Soros and go and visit the Holocaust museum. While you are there, think (for yourselves, for a change) about it.

  3. Henderson High School in West Chester PA made this the summer reading for all 10th grade European History students. Excellent book!

  4. My uncle Bubi(Roger Silberwasser) leapt into darkness with Leo. That part I can confirm so I am certain the rest is true.
    My own story of fleeing Austria may sound just as difficult for people to credit but I lived it!