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Holocaust Survivor Oral Histories

From 2003 through 2013, Professor Uta Larkey from Goucher College (Baltimore, MD) conducted a class that required students to interview Baltimore-area Holocaust survivors.

INTERVIEW 2: Experiences During the War Years

Biography

Leo Bretholz was born on March 6, 1921 to Max Bretholz and Dora (Fischmann) Bretholz. He grew up in Vienna, Austria with his younger sisters, Henny and Edith (Ditta). His father was an actor in the Yiddish theater and worked as a tailor until he died of an ulcer in 1930. The Anschluss (the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany) occurred in March 1938. Many of Leo’s family were arrested by the Nazis and Leo, encouraged by his mother, fled the country. He escaped into Luxembourg, but was arrested a few days later and eventually taken into Belgium, arriving in Antwerp on November 11, 1938. There, he studied to be an electrician at a public trade school because his only other option was moving to an internment camp. In May 1940, Belgian authorities arrested Leo because he was an “enemy alien,” and they sent him to Saint-Cyprien, an internment camp near Spain’s border. He escaped and eventually lived in an assigned residence in Cauterets, France for almost a year. On August 26, 1941, he left Cauterets to avoid deportation but was caught by Swiss Mountain Patrol and sent to Camp de Rivesaltes, an internment camp, and a couple of weeks later to the Drancy internment camp, both in France. On November 5, 1942, Leo was deported on a train to Auschwitz. He escaped with a friend by jumping out of a window on the train, but was caught again when entering southern France and was sent to prison for nine months. When he was released in 1943, he was sent to the Septfonds internment camp in France for one month. He was then assigned to a forced labor group. While on a train at the Toulouse train station in October 1943, he escaped again by jumping out of a train window. He lived in Toulouse under a false name, Max Henri Lefevre. Leo joined Compagnons de France, a Jewish resistance group, and continued working with the group and living in Limoges, France until the war ended.

On January 19, 1947, Leo left France for New York City. Ten days later, he moved in with his aunt and uncle in Baltimore, though his uncle died soon after his arrival. Leo worked in the textile industry and eventually moved out of his aunt’s house. In 1951, he met his future wife, Flo, at a friend’s wedding. In July 1952, Flo and Leo married. They had a son and two daughters. In 1962, Leo found out that his mother and sisters died in Auschwitz. In 1968, Leo began working in book retail and lived in Holland for two years. He wrote a memoir, Leap Into Darkness, and appeared in a documentary, Survivors Among Us. On March 8, 2014, Leo died at the age of 93 at his home in Pikesville, MD.

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