Born March 25, 1917, in Bremen, Germany
Died February 15, 2011, in New York, NY
Rabbi Wiener was born on March 25, 1917 to Selma and Josef Zwienicki. Josef ran a bicycle sales and repair shop and Selma worked as a kindergarten teacher and a bookkeeper for a large firm. Rabbi Wiener was the eldest of four children. As a child, Rabbi Wiener experienced the economic depression that followed WWI. He also witnessed the violent street fights between the Nazis and their political opponents, the Communists and Socialists.
Rabbi Wiener was in high school when Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933 and the Nazi party came to power. Anti-Semitic legislations began as soon as Hitler took office. By April 1933 German law restricted the number of Jewish students in German schools and universities. Most of the teachers in Rabbi Wiener’s school supported the new regime and incorporated “race science” courses into the curriculum. After high school, Rabbi Wiener began rabbinical studies in Frankfurt am Main and later at the Jewish Teachers’ Seminary in Wuerzburg.
On November 9–10, 1938, Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), a state-sponsored nationwide pogrom, Rabbi Wiener was arrested and held for eight days in the Wuerzburg jail. Upon his return to Bremen, he learned that during Kristallnacht the Nazis shot and killed his mother and that his brother, Benno, had been sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Rabbi Wiener traveled to Hamburg where he found his father and a younger brother.
After Kristallnacht, anti-Semitism grew worse. All Jews were prohibited from attending German schools and universities, cinemas, theatres, and sports facilities. In 1939 Rabbi Wiener negotiated with the Gestapo (the German Secret State Police) and set up a school for Jewish children. Josef had family in Saskatchewan, Canada who were able to get papers that allowed the family to leave Germany. With the help of a man associated with the Cunard White Star Line (now Cunard Line), a British shipping company, Rabbi Wiener and his family left Germany on May 31, 1939 and immigrated to Canada by way of Great Britain.
Rabbi Wiener later immigrated to the United States on a student visa to attend the Baltimore Rabbinical College. In 1944 he was ordained as a rabbi and took a position at the Hebrew National Orphan Home in Yonkers, New York.
Rabbi Wiener earned a Ph.D. in Human Development and Social Relations from New York University and became a social worker for the New York City Department of Human Resource Administration after WWII. In 1948 he married Trudel Farntrog, a fellow survivor. Rabbi Wiener is a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
First Person series Conversation with a Holocaust survivor [2005 season].