Weinberger was born in a little town called Kolnik which was located near Munkacs, Czechoslovakia. Kolnik was home to fifty to sixty Jewish families. Weinberger lived there together with his parents, four older and one younger brother, and his older sister. He grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home and recalls his youth in the Jewish community and with his Gentile neighbors as very happy and harmonious. According to Weinberger the policy of the government was in no means anti-Semitic in pre-war Czechoslovakia. His father owned a bar which was later run by his sister. Weinberger’s two older brothers emigrated to Argentina in the late 1920s. At the age of sixteen, after attending both Hebrew and public school, Weinberger worked in the family’s bar and helped his brother who owned a taxi in Munkacs.
In 1939 the eastern part of Slovakia, including Kolnik and Munkacs, was annexed by Hungary, an ally of Nazi Germany. The entire population became Hungarian citizens. Since Weinberger’s brother was drafted into the Hungarian army, Weinberger had to take care of his taxi business in Munkacs. In 1940 the Hungarian government started with the implementation of anti-Jewish laws in former Slovakia and, thus, Weinberger’s sister lost her license to run the bar. All Jewish businesses were taken over by Gentiles and many Jewish adults were taken to labor camps.
In 1941 Weinberger was drafted into the Hungarian army and sent for basic training to Kosice. He belonged to the 4th Division of the 8th Army. Only Jews were in his regiment and in January, 1942, his unit was sent to Romania to build railroad tracks. At this time Hungary, as an ally of Nazi Germany, was at war with the Soviet Union. In June 1942 Weinberger’s regiment was sent to Budapest to serve at an airforce base. At the end of the year, Weinberger was ordered together with eighty of his Jewish comrades to an army garage in Budapest. There they had to take apart defective and damaged army equipment. Their captain, a Hungarian Gentile, treated them like friends and helped them whenever he could. Each and every day the members of this unit where allowed to leave the military area for three hours and every few weeks they could visit their families. During this time Weinberger met his future wife, Sarah, a native of Galizia, who had escaped the mass killings of Jews by Nazis in her hometown and had fled to Budapest.
In 1943 Weinberger made the acquaintance of the outlawed World Zionist Organization. He became a member but was not even allowed to tell his girlfriend about it in order to minimize the risk of being detected. One day the Zionists asked Weinberger to deliver a letter and a secret message to Rabbi Aharon Rokeach, also known as the Belzer Rebbe. Rabbi Rokeach, a respected Hasidic leader of European Jewry, had escaped from a concentration camp and was at this time hiding in Budapest. Weinberg informed Rabbi Rokeach that the World Zionist Organization planned on smuggling him out of Hungary to Romania and then via Turkey to Palestine which they eventually accomplished successfully.
In early 1944 the Hungarian government began to work toward extricating Hungary from its alliance with Nazi Germany. Being aware of this change in attitude, German forces occupied Hungary in March 1944. The Nazis set up a new government that immediately started with the ghettoization and deportation of Hungarian Jews to concentration camps. Weinberger learned that his parents and his sister were taken to the Munkacs ghetto. With the help of false papers provided by his unit’s captain, Weinberger was still able to travel to Munkacs to help his parents. Arriving at the ghetto, the guard, known to Weinberger from Kolnik, barred him from entering the ghetto in order not to risk his life. Instead Weinberger secured many pounds of coffee and bread which were smuggled to Weinberg’s family with the help of the guard’s wife. Then he returned to Budapest. After the war he learned that his family was sent to Auschwitz where his parents were killed in the gas chambers.
Deportation of Jews from Hungary continued all through 1944. Weinberger’s future wife managed to rent an apartment in Budapest with the help of false papers pretending to be an Ukrainian Gentile. Everyday she and another friend prepared food which they dispensed in their apartment to Jews who were living in hiding. Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of tens of thousands Jews in Budapest, provided Weinberger once with money to buy large quantities of food.
Weinberger and his future wife managed to avoid deportation until January, 1945, when the Red Army liberated Budapest. After the war they went to Munkacs where they got married. Weinberger learned that two of his brothers also perished during the Holocaust. His sister survived the Auschwitz concentration camp. Weinberger and his wife emigrated to the United States. They have one daughter and three grandchildren.
Date: June 26, 2001
Interviewer: Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig
Format: Video recording
Length: 1 hour 25 minutes