The book begins with Hitler's entry into Austria in 1938. The book recounts Leo's early life and the beginning of the war, as well as the seven years he spent on the run. Throughout the book Leo escapes from the Nazi Regime several times, including from a train that was headed towards Auschwitz.
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.
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.