Weinsaft, Harry

Weinsaft, Harry

Vienna (Austria)

Weinsaft was born in 1923 near Vienna, Austria, the youngest of three children. His parents, religious but not orthodox Jews, owned a textile and clothing shop in Vienna. Weinsaft led a normal life until the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938. Following that event he was expelled from school and his father’s business was confiscated. As anti-Semitism increased, it became very evident to his family that their existence could no longer be maintained in Austria and efforts were initiated to leave the country.

His oldest sister Naomi had previously gone to Palestine. Another sister, Sophie, was able to go to England as a domestic worker, and Weinsaft was able to secure an affidavit for the United States through the efforts of a relative in Kansas City, Missouri. The relative contacted the Pendergast organization in Kansas City who in turn appealed to their then Senator Harry S. Truman. Truman made the necessary arrangements for Weinsaft to come to the United States. While aboard ship, Harry met and was inspired by the four-time Olympic Gold Medal winner, Jesse Owens.

Weinsaft gives credit to an SS Lt. Colonel, a former employee in his father’s shop, for his and his parents’ safety in Vienna and for their immigration. His parents were able to buy a visa for Cuba and left Vienna in 1939.

Following completion of high school, Weinsaft enlisted in the U.S. Army. He became a member of the 10th Mountain Division, trained at Camp Hale, Colorado, and served in Italy during several campaigns. Following the end of the war, Weinsaft was assigned to General Mark Clark’s headquarters in Vienna as a translator. While in Vienna he encountered many Jews, former inmates of concentration camps, among them Simon Wiesenthal, and was successful in aiding many of them.

Following his discharge from the army, he accepted a job from the Jewish Agency staying in Vienna and assisting Jewish displaced persons to facilitate their emigration to Palestine and the United States. He subsequently joined the crew of the ship Exodus and, as its security officer, participated in its fateful voyage to Palestine. He tells the true story of that voyage which differs somewhat from the movie version. After the formation of Israel, Weinsaft fought in the Israeli army.

After his return to the United States, Weinsaft became an art dealer in Michigan. After attending a reunion of the Exodus crew in Israel in 1988, he suffered a stroke. He became very proficient and was widely recognized as an impressionist painter.

Interview Information:
Date: August 22, 1994
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Length: 2 hours and 34 minutes
Format: Video recording