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Memories and memoirs: He lived to tell about them

On a train ride to a German death camp, Leo Bretholz was able to escape through the iron bars of a window and save his life. Knowing that others were not as fortunate to survive the Holocaust, he later helped write a memoir of his experience and in remembrance of those killed.

On Tuesday Leo Bretholz will share his survival experience with USF. The memoir Leap into Darkness: Seven Years On the Run in Wartime Europe retells his story of desperation, sadness and fear that he was able to overcome and survive.

Bretholz said his memoir, which was co-written by Michael Olesker, has become a required teaching tool to European history and Holocaust classes. The book has been published in London, the Netherlands and Sweden.

“I wanted to reach young people to inform them about the Holocaust from a personal perspective,” Bretholz said.Bretholz is now writing a small volume of vignettes that tell the events that occurred after publishing his memoir.

Bretholz said in 1938 he had to leave his home, Austria, because it was under Nazi ruling. Bretholz left his mother, never to see her again, and moved to France where he was arrested in 1942.

On a freight train to Auschwitz, a German death camp, he was able to escape through the iron bars of a window. Bretholz said he spent seven years fleeing from the enemy and was arrested six more times, but he was able to escape due to the motivation of his fear.

“I walked in the rain all night and was too exhausted to continue,” Bretholz said.

Bretholz said that there were specific people that he met along the way who helped encourage him to continue. Bretholz said he met many Christians who were willing to help him, such as Parish priests, Franciscan friars and a nun named Jeanne d’Arc.

Bretholz said these people aided in his survival, and he could not have made it through the Holocaust without them. When he heard the war was over in 1945, he was with friends that belonged to a unit of the Resistance in Limoges, France.

Nicky Spivak, executive director for the Hillel Foundation, said Bretholz’s lecture will be an extremely important message.

“It’s a message of survival and the history of an event,” Spivak said. “It’s important for anyone in younger generations to hear and understand his lecture and to prevent from happening again.”Spivak said Bretholz lectures to universities in hopes that students learn a valuable lesson, from mistakes of the past.