Henry Weil was born Heinz Weil on September 22, 1935, in Vienna, Austria. Henry’s father, Hugo, owned and operated the family’s leather goods store. His mother, Marishka, 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 12, 1938, German troops marched into Austria and annexed the country the following day. Henry and his mother watched from the window of their apartment as Nazi 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 from Mr. Rice, an unknown man from Boston, who guaranteed Hugo would have work for him upon arrival to the US. Hugo contacted Marishka’s brother Joseph in the United States who assisted him in obtaining a visa; unfortunately, the visa only listed Hugo. 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 classmate of Hugo’s hid the family in his home while final preparations were made to leave Austria. After approximately one week in hiding, Henry and his family left for Paris under the cover of night. The family lived in a hotel room for a time, narrowly escaping falling bombs by riding the metro during nightly air raids.
Eventually, the family was able to make their way to Southampton, England, where their voyage to the US was to begin. The Weils missed their scheduled departure time due to the delays in obtaining the correct visas, but were able to secure passage on another ship chartered by a Jewish relief organization to aid Jewish refugees. Passengers were required to wear gas masks and life vests for the duration of the voyage. Their ship, The Aquitania, zigzagged through the Atlantic to avoid German U-Boats and took nearly three weeks to reach Ellis Island in New York. Later, the family learned the ship they had originally planned to take was sunk by the Germans. The family arrived with Marishka’s iron, Hugo’s opera glasses, and $20. The Weils stayed in the Bronx with Henry’s aunt and uncle for 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. Fortunately, all of Marishka’s family survived the Holocaust.
Henry attended Georgetown Law School, became a lawyer, and opened a private practice. Henry is now retired and volunteers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.