Peter Josef Weiss – Memories

My father, Peter Josef Weiss, was born in Vienna, Austria, on 23 November 1918. He died on 18 September 1990 in the state of Maryland, USA.

His first cousin, Herbert R. Weiss, was born in Vienna, Austria on 23 July 1920. He died on June 19, 2009 in the state of North Carolina, USA.

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My grandparents (see below) left Austria and arrived in Belgium in early 1940. My grandmother’s brother, Robert Furst, lived in Brussels. They arrived in the US on 5 February 1940 (see p. 42 of diary, below).

My father, Peter Weiss, left Austria in 1938, around the time of Kristallnacht, and with a friend was able to sneak into Belgium and was in a refugee camp there for some months.

Herbert arrived at Kitchener Camp first, in 1939, and my father (Peter) later that year.

They left Kitchener together around March 1940 – both had passage on a ship to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and from there they both went to the USA. He and Herbert worked their way to New York, knocked at my grandparents’ apartment door, and they were reunited after years apart.

Another cousin, Walter Fuerst – or perhaps Furst – arrived at Kitchener Camp with my father. What happened to him thereafter is not known to me.

Upon getting to the US, my father worked for a time in a belt factory and sometimes as a waiter. He attempted to get into the US army for a few years, but since his English was poor, he was not a citizen of the US, and his knees and eyes were not so great, he was turned down.

But by 1943 the standards had relaxed and his English had improved. He was able to go on a 10-day immigration/basic training course for the Army and become a US citizen, and then he was shipped to France. He was a medical corpsman.

After his service in Europe, where he may well have been valuable since he spoke German and French, he returned to the US.

After his service in the army, and because of the GI Bill – a US law assisting veterans with university expenses – my father was able to go to Georgetown University in Washington, DC, for his undergraduate studies and then on to a PhD program. 

My father obtained a doctoral degree in organic chemistry, and was then employed with our Food and Drug Administration. I’m amazed that he was already a “student of chemistry” back at Kitchener Camp, as it says in your documents.

I note that on the ship’s manifest was a person named Leo Storch. We used to live a few doors away from a person with that name, here in Baltimore, although I never met him.

Kindly submitted by the Weiss family for Peter Weiss

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Below is Peter Weiss’s diary account of these years.

The originals of the Weiss family archives are housed with the excellent United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, DC

Please visit the site at the following link, where extended materials can be viewed: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn632497#?c=0&m=3&s=0&cv=29&xywh=-2197%2C-282%2C8413%2C5628

The Diary of Peter Weiss

Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography, cover page
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography, cover page
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography, Arrival in Brussels 27 September 1938, Boy scouts, Walter Fuerst, Diary 11 November 1938
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _002
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _002, Merxplas, Belgium, Visa,
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _003
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _003
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _004
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _004
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _005
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _005, Life in Merxplas camp – playing ball, chess, bridge; courses in English, French, First Aid; 4 November 1938 transport arrives with 33 newcomers; regular work begins in agriculture, carpentry, electrical installation, theoretical instruction; news of persecution of Jews in Vienna; fears for relatives; Situation in Germany quietening; 19 November 1938 an election of dormitory trustees; new transport due 20 November 1938; evening entertainment once a week: “the boy scouts who visited us in the refugee camp attended”.
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _006
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _006, A visit of three Belgian scouts, 20 November 1938, Merxplas, Belgium
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _007
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _007
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _008
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _008
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _009
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _009; birthday greetings from Walter Schatzker; Merxplas 23 November 1939
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _010
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _010, practical course in electrical installation 27 November 1938; Sheet metalwork – automobile mechanics; tailoring courses; Football game on Sunday; 1 December news father has been arrested in Vienna; released after one day; protest about camp food; letter from son of Dr Hermanns.
Refugee camp in Merxplas; request to write article about Austrian scout movement and what has happened to it now; Jamboree in Holland, 1937 – Austrian delegates; Letter from G. Hermann
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _012
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _012; 4 December 1938 scout acting group entertainment; 9 December has first leave – visit to Antwerp and Otto Seidel; Visit to Brussels; Paul Liebman and wife en route to Chile; 10 December return to camp; 15 December George Hermann visits; 16 December telegram from Viki Fuerst announcing departure to Paraguay
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _013
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _013; Mail arrives and courses continue; Paul’s wallet missing 25 December 1938; On leave 29 December – to Otto Seidel and the Sonnenscheinen Antwerp; 30 December calls Oscar Fuerst “who, after a long and arduous trip finally landed in Brussels”; New Year’s Eve 1939; 11 January Dr Gottschalk and other committee representatives visit.
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _014Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _014
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _014; Merxplas refugee camp, Belgium, 1938/1939
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _015
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _015; Boy Scout friendship, 15 December 1938; Tingnia Crzetene, alias Hermann
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _016
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _016; following Gottschalk and government visit, on 14 January most married men left the camp; Paul called to appear before Brussels committee and has chance to go to Bolivia, with Willy Hoenig – refused; to leave for France on 18 February 1939; Heini accompanied him to Brussels; 5 February 1939 Gerd Klein, Walter Kraus and Kurt Rothschild leave for Brussels; visits with Heini Mantel; Visit in Brussels with Sigi Stoessel; 8 February 1939 Paul on train to Paris from Brussels at 07.27; to meet Heinz Fleischer on his trip to New York
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _017
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _017
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _018
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _018; carpentry training shop, Merxplas, Belgium
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _019
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _019; short stay in Antwerp – back to camp; in charge of canteen until 15 February 1939; 15 March – large performance to which committee and prominent guests invited; Otto Werberg; Dr Epstein
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _020
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _020; performers include Otto Werberg, Stella Mann, Korzi Rosental, Walter Roth; ballet asked to perform at University of Brussels; Otto leaves for Buenos Aires; Soccer game, with Andre Karnitzer and Gerhard Gruen; Kurt Goldner left the camp with scholarship for the Drawing Academy of Antwerp; Concert with Leo Heber, K Rosenthal, Poldl Fischer, Leo Halfter, H. Mann-Werberg, Heini Fenster.
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _021
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _021; Renne in England – parents received affidavit “which gave them a great deal of joy”; 4 April start of Pesach – the whole camp had kosher food; lovely weather; Handball, soccer and bridge parties help pass the time; Vacation at end of April – six days in Antwerp.
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _022
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _022
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _023
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _023; Distributing leaflets; holiday in Brussels; Returned to camp 3 May 1939; Paul is about to start as a fruit and vegetable gardener on a farm; Herbert leaves Vienna for ‘the English camp’ on 11 May; On 11 May new transport to England from Merxplas; On 5 May wanted to phone father in Vienna for his birthday, but unable to do so. More concerts.
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _024
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _024; Busy with arrangements for concerts; 19 May, a group leaves for England – “a difficult farewell, full of tears”; Soccer games; First news from the English camp is “excellent”; waiting “impatiently” for the second transport.
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _025
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _025
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _026
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _026
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _027
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _027; four camp residents sent away as punishment on 4 June 1939 – others to follow; Tradesmen and ‘juveniles’ to leave the camp soon; 8 June on holiday again – visited aunt, in transit in Brussels; Expecting departure to England every day; On 26 June receives sad news – a camp mate, Max Iger, died in Antwerp hospital; surgery in July to have polyps removed at St Pierre hospital – “remarkable relief”; No news about departure for England.
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _028
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _028
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _029
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _029
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _030
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _030; Suddens news of departure for England on 7 August 1939; hasty preparations; left Merxplas on 8 August 1939, after a nine-month stay; English visa received the following day – luggage expedited – stayed a few days in Brussels; left on Sunday 13th (?) August at 4pm; in the English camp, met with old Merxplas friends; “the camp here has been built very beautifully and we all feel very well here”; Anxious time because of political situation and “one can count on an outbreak of war”; “In the camp all necessary measures are being taken. Blackout, distribution of gas masks, etc.” On 1 September 1939, war between Germany and Poland; “camp in deep darkness”, “every man knew which position he had to occupy when the need arose”; On 3 September 1939 “England and France entered the war. Two minutes after the English declaration of war there was the first air raid and during the following night, the second”.
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _031
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _031; Walter Kraus, Walter Fuerst; report to first aid troop immediately in Hut 17/I, bed 7; First meeting front of hospital on 3 September; D. Laza.
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _032
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _032; listen to news on radio; post almost stopped and then resumes through neutral Belgium; 13 September received first mail from Vienna; Uncle Siegfried has left Vienna for USA; German troops march further into Poland; Western front success of French and English; Russian troops cross eastern border with Poland on 17 September 1939; Warsaw surrenders on 27 September; “Here in the camp one expects daily the arrival of the commission which will make a decision about our future. The commission declares very soon that almost all people in the camp are friendly aliens and designates them ‘Free’.” Further war news; “On 20 October which was by the way the date when I was supposed to appear before the tribunal there was a new phase in our life”.
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _033
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _033; Visit by Lord Reading; challenged us to “prove our gratitude towards England and make our services available to any type of National Service”; hopes to depart for USA, having received ‘letter of friendship’; “in the camp the decision went out that all those who are over 20 years old and will not be able to emigrate shortly, must join. The deadline for emigrants was decided to be the date of registration 31 August 1938”; First camp men in uniform by November 1939; parents’ medical examination in Vienna; Herbert’s parents due to leave 1 December for Rotterdam – Herbert denied request to visit them in transit in Southampton – but they are delayed because of a delay at US consulate.
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _034
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _034; Lord Reading’s speech
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _035
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _035; Lord Reading’s speech
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _036
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _036; Lord Reading’s speech
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _037
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _037; Russia and resistance to military aggression in Finland; Parents received visa on 5 December 1939; Herbert’s parents arrived Rotterdam on 17 December; “In the camp there is a great deal of dissatisfaction. The work of the campers is being well paid by the military but the camp seems to be satisfied paying us [?]. Not enough that people who already received the American Visa have to stay in the camp and they even refuse to pay for their tickets. The first question solved by paying us 1/6 per week. The second question stays open”; Herbert and I worked first as gardeners, and now in the kitchens; preparation for New year’s Eve celebration.
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _038
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _038; visit by Archbishop of Canterbury
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _039
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _039; New year celebration included about 60 people, some former dormitory friends, now in Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps; 1940 – Parents packed and hope to be in Brussels soon; Invitation to meet cousins in Canterbury; 10 January – news that parents left Germany and are now in Brussels before leaving with Holland-America from Antwerp; 20 January – day in Canterbury with Renne, and Herbert as guest – with Taylor family: “We were happy that the three of us could sit together just like we used to before the Anschluss; the first two of our hut left the camp for USA: Heini Mantel and Fritz Stermann.
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _040
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _040
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _041
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _041; the first company has left for France from Kitchener; second company followed a few days later; “With this event many of the former Merxplas people left our circle”; Increasingly fewer people left in Kitchener – some leave for overseas, some to start jobs; The following Saturday Herbert and I travel to London and join Walter, who had been there a few days; “we spent a marvellous week there”; attended a dance, visited St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, Whitehall, 10 Downing St., the Tower of London, Selfridges, State cinema; stayed with aunt Sophie in Hendon; “the fabulous arrangement of the London Subway” [Underground].
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _042
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _042; Otto Koehler left our hut and a few days later Dr [Lannel?], and (Tutti) Steindling for the USA; Camp development continued: “First there were 2,000, then only 1,000, then 1,300 additionals”; in our hut emigration continues; [B?]uschi left the camp ‘for good’ on 21 February 1939. Richard Lasner, Fritz and Brand got their tickets and will go soon; four members of hut, including Herbert and myself got our medicals; Parents arrived in the USA on 5 February; I work regular duties plus work in the radio group: “This is an installation of 32 radios on which people listen for all German transmissions. Any suspicious transmission is being recorded on cylinders, which are simply turned on by the listener”; 4 March medical examination at the American Consulate; difficulties because ship ticket and granting of visa postponed until ticket was paid for by a private party; Herbert met same fate a week previously.
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _043
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _043; family news; war news.
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _044
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _044; My emigration has made progress – visa issued on 6 May; war news; Kitchener Camp situation has “changed enormously. On May 13 the radio station was unexpectedly shut down and in our camp we were told to pack our luggage for a move. This move takes longer than expected; therefore, other measures have to be taken. Nobody is allowed leave at all. Later on even visits in the camp were prohibited. Phone calls to the outside were forbidden and the mail is being censored”; Herbert and I are to leave by ship in late May; air raids; “On 26 May at 12 noon we were told that the camp was to be evacuated and that those, whose departure was imminent, were to go along. In the evening we heard that we shall be …”
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _045
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _045; ” … in a separate compartment and therefore our hope increased that we should reach the ship in time”; 12 hour trip to Liverpool; under police arrest until ship arrived on Thursday; no laundry or washing facilities; Boarded ship on 30th May; anchors up at 1pm; Entertainment on board including bridge, ping-pong, dancing; 8 June saw Halifax, Canada; Sailed on to Quebec – “received very nicely by the Montefiore club”; arrived New York at 6am on 13 June 1939.
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _046
Kitchener camp, Peter Weiss, Autobiography _046; housed in the Congress house to look for employment.


Reproduced with the kind permission of the Weiss family, for Peter Weiss

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Below is a link to the passports and some other documents from my grandparents, Georg and Margarethe Weiss. The passport authorities gave my grandfather the middle name “Israel”, though he had no middle name. I think this was to designate them as Jewish. My grandmother was given the middle name of “Sarah” – I think for the same purpose. She had no middle name either.

You will see here that my grandparents were able to come to the US because a man named Louis Weiss, who was not a relative, signed an affidavit saying that he was related, and would support my grandparents so they would not become a burden to the US government:

https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn632497#?c=0&m=3&s=0&cv=14&xywh=-1363%2C-1%2C6750%2C5084 

My grandfather was born in 1886 and died in around 1971. In the US he was a door-to-door salesman of brushes and household items, and he also worked at a print shop. My grandmother was born in 1890, and died in around 1986. She had no trouble getting employment in the US because she was a milliner and expert seamstress. For a time they lived in Boston and she worked at a shop that proudly put a sign in the window: “Viennese milliner on site”. My wife and I were married in 1983, and my grandmother was able to attend and enjoy the event. 

While my grandparents retained the name Weiss, my grandfather added an “e” at the end of his first name, Americanizing it to George.  My grandmother dropped the “he” at the end of her name and became Margaret. 

Her brother, Robert Furst (referred to in my father’s diary, above, as “uncle Bobby”) and his wife lived in Brussels. They had no children. During the war they were hidden in a farm house in the countryside for about a year and half. After the war, they returned to the same apartment in Brussels where they lived before the war. 

My parents visited them in the 1970s; I visited in 1981. My grandmother and her brother corresponded often and, on one occasion, they spoke on the telephone. 

My grandparents married in December 1917.  Obviously, my grandfather gave my grandmother a ring. When the National Socialists came to their apartment in Vienna and ransacked it, many items were stolen or destroyed. My grandmother, however, had baked a cake and put the wedding ring in the middle of the batter. She shipped the cake to her brother, with the note saying that the filling was special … it was made to George’s recipe. Now, my grandfather had never cooked or baked anything – ever – and so, Uncle Bobby found the ring. 

After fleeing, my grandparents stayed in Belgium for a few days to visit Uncle Bobby. My grandmother retrieved the ring, which is engraved inside with their names and the date of their wedding. She wore that ring for the rest of her life, and now, that ring is worn by my wife. 

Thank you so much for keeping these memories alive.

With the kind permission of the Weiss family, for Peter Weiss