Henry Weil was born Heinz Weil on September 22, 1935, in Vienna, Austria. Henry’s father, Hugo, worked in a leather goods store owned by his uncle Philipp Weil. His mother, Maria “Marishka” née Springer, cared for Henry and their home. The Weils were an observant Jewish family, attending synagogue regularly. Henry had many cousins living close by and spent his childhood riding tricycles and playing games with them in the courtyard of his apartment building.
On March 11-13, 1938, Nazi Germany took over Austria and annexed the country, an event known as the Anschluss. Henry and his mother watched from the window of their apartment as German soldiers marched through the streets, tears streaming down Marishka’s face. Soon after the Anschluss, antisemitic legislation from Germany was extended to Austria and life for Jews in Vienna grew restrictive. Hugo began to make preparations to emigrate. He was able to acquire an affidavit provided by Mr. Rice, a stranger from Massachusetts who took financial responsibility for Hugo upon arrival to the US. Hugo was able to obtain a visa from the American Embassy in Vienna; unfortunately, the visa only listed him. To rectify this issue and ensure Henry and Marishka would be able to emigrate with him, Hugo made dozens of trips to the American consulate in Vienna over the next year. Passage to the United States via ship was secured as well.
In August 1939, the Weils were forced out of their apartment. An old non-Jewish friend of Hugo’s took the family into his home while final preparations were made to leave Austria. After approximately one week, Henry and his family left for Paris. The family lived in a hotel room for a time. While they were there, the city was on edge. The Weils worried about air raids and spent many nights in an air raid shelter.
Luckily, the Weil family was still able to make their way to England. They missed their scheduled departure time due to the unexpected extended stay in Paris and delays in obtaining the correct visas. However, they were able to secure passage on another ship chartered by a Jewish relief organization to aid Jewish refugees. Their ship, the SS Aquitania, left Southampton on September 9, 1939. The passengers were warned about the dangers of crossing the Atlantic during the war. The ship that the Weils had been originally scheduled to be on, the SS Athenia, had been hit by German U boats on September 3, and sunk, killing some of the passengers. The SS Aquitania zigzagged through the Atlantic to avoid a similar fate. Henry and other young passengers wore life vests for the duration of the voyage.
The family arrived in New York with Marishka’s iron, Hugo’s opera glasses, and $20. The Weils stayed in the Bronx with Henry’s aunt and uncle for approximately one year. During that time, Hugo commuted to and from Philadelphia each week to work in a leather factory.
The family settled in Wilmington, Delaware, which had a robust leather industry at the time. Both Hugo and Marishka went to night school to learn English and became naturalized citizens in 1941, the same year Henry’s little sister Shirley was born. Henry began school in kindergarten and picked up English fairly quickly, although the family still spoke German at home regularly. A few years later, the family received a telegram from the Red Cross informing them that Hugo’s family had been murdered in concentration camps including his sister Wilma Kubatova. All of Marishka’s family survived the Holocaust.
Henry attended Georgetown Law School and opened a private law practice. Henry is now retired and volunteers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.