Bert Weinbach was born in 1921 to Israel Weinbach and Rachel Rosa Probst Weinbach in Vienna, Austria. His father was a watchmaker who owned his own jewelry business. Bert had been a top student in his school, but in March 1938, when the Nazis annexed Austria, Bert’s life changed dramatically. He was ostracized and humiliated by the teachers and fellow students. No longer willing to endure this environment, Bert, now 17 years old, dropped out of school and took a job as a trainee for a Jewish city wholesaler who made his living selling red cloth for Nazi flags.
Bert decided to leave Austria. In the summer of 1938, he slipped across the border to Czechoslovakia, but was sent back. Next he tried to cross the French border, attempting to travel to Paris to live with his paternal aunt, uncle and cousin. Carrying no luggage other than a toothbrush, he told the authorities that he was going to visit his family in Paris for the weekend. The German customs officer let him go, but the French officials stopped him at the border. They gave him the choice of either returning to Austria or joining the French Foreign Legion. He went back to Austria only to be arrested by the Gestapo who held him for a few hours before releasing him.
Now more determined than ever to leave, Bert somehow obtained a visa to cross into the USSR joining five others. His father paid his fare on the Trans-Siberian Express traveling to northern China, now occupied by the Japanese. He decided to settle in Tientsin (Tianjin), China, which had an established Jewish community.
Life for Jews in occupied China was hospitable but harsh. Jews had developed a communal life, although the Russian Jews and German-speaking Jews were socially apart. Germans began pressuring the Japanese to incarcerate Jews.
Bert’s parents, Rosa, Israel, and younger brother Kurt remained in Vienna until January, 1941, when his father’s WWI officer, Heinrich Stumpfl, now a three-star general and Stadtkommandant (regional commander) of Vienna, saved the family so they could join Bert in Tientsin. (See also Kurt Weinbach entry). The General not only provided the family with exit visas but also paid for their Trans-Siberian railroad journey. (See also Kurt Weinbach entry).
Bert and his family, lived in Tientsin from 1941-1945 under Japanese rule and from 1945 to 1948 under the United States Marine control. Bert, his wife Minna and their children who were born in China left with the Marines. They travelled to Canada and then emigrated to Rochester, New York, where Bert worked as head of a local bus drivers’ union. He attributes his survival and that of his family largely to his youthful, “mindless” bravado, wanderlust and fate.