Leo Bretholz

Leo Bretholz

Leo Bretholz

  • Vienna, Austria

Leo was the oldest child and only son of Polish immigrants in Vienna. His father, a tailor and amateur Yiddish actor, died of an illness in 1930 when Leo was 9. His mother supported the family by working as an embroiderer; Leo helped out by looking after his two younger sisters. They lived in one of Vienna's large Jewish districts on the east side of the Danube Canal.

1933-39: Anti-Jewish sentiment escalated after Germany annexed Austria in 1938. Jewish men, including some of my uncles and neighbors, were arrested every day. I was 17 and afraid it could happen to me, so my mother urged me to flee Austria. I took a train to Trier, Germany, and swam across the Sauer River to Luxembourg. Once there, a relief group assisting refugees from Germany and Austria smuggled me to Belgium.

1940-44: Germany invaded Belgium in 1940 and I was deported to a refugee camp in France. I escaped by crawling under the fence, but was arrested in 1942 and eventually sent to the Drancy transit camp. En route to Auschwitz by cattle car, a friend and I worked all day to pry open the bars of the window. Driven by fear and hoping for luck, I leapt from the train. With the underground's help, I got false papers as "Max Henri Lefevre" and worked for the underground forging IDs and locating German troops.

After D Day, Leo worked with refugees in Limoges, France. His mother, sisters and 55 other relatives perished in the Holocaust. Leo emigrated to the United States in 1947.