Kurt Weinbach was born on July 6,1928, to Israel Weinbach and Rachel Rosa Probst Weinbach in Vienna, Austria. His father was a watchmaker who owned his own jewelry business. During WWI Israel was sent to fight on the Russian front where he became a corporal and a secretary in the army office. Also serving as the unit photographer, Israel became a close friend of the captain, Heinrich Stumpfl. The friendship between his father and Stumpfl would become crucial to his family’s survival.
Kurt was only nine years old when he saw Adolf Hitler make his triumphal entrance into Vienna, in March 1938, shortly after Austria was annexed into the Third Reich. His older brother Bert (Berthold), at 17, left the country after two foiled escapes. Bert was able to obtain a visa to cross into Russia. His father paid his train fare on the Trans-Siberian Express. He eventually settled in Tientsin, China.
In the meantime, Israel discovered that Heinrich Stumpfl had become a three-star general and was now the military commander in charge of Vienna. Israel sent his former friend a letter to congratulate him on his appointment. Shortly thereafter, Stumpfl invited him to an audience at his headquarters in one of the Hapsburg palaces. General Stumpfl, realizing the danger that Jews were in, offered to protect Israel and his family in Vienna and would let him know when it was time to leave the country.
By November, 1938, the Nazis went on a rampage, known as Kristallnacht, burning synagogues, destroying Jewish businesses and arresting Jewish men. Israel Weinbach’s business was saved by customers, but the Nazis did not allow him to continue his business . He was able to support the family by running a clock-repairing school for a group of mischling (half Jews) who hoped to be employed in other countries. The family was forced to move to a Jewish area where they had to share an apartment, and Kurt was no longer permitted to attend public school. In January 1941, a message came from General Stumpfl telling them it was time to leave. Stumpfl provided the family with exit visas and paid for their first-class passage on the Trans-Siberian Express. The visas to enter China were obtained through the ingenuity of Kurt's mother, (See also Rosa Probst Weinbach entry) who convinced the Japanese officials, now in control of China, that an invitation she had received from Kurt’s brother, Bert, to join the Jewish community's social club in Tientsin constituted an official entry visa.
After a long journey, the family reached Tientsin in April 1941.The family was finally reunited with Bert and became integrated into the well-organized Jewish community there. Kurt, now almost 13, was finally able to resume his schooling. Tientsin, along with other Chinese areas where the Japanese governed, was not liberated until August 1945 when the Japanese surrendered. The family remained in Tientsin and again experienced war when the Communists fought the Nationalists in China. In 1949, Kurt and his parents finally left for Israel, where Kurt served in the army and where his father passed away.
After eight years in Israel, in 1957 Kurt, and his mother emigrated to Rochester, New York, to join his brother Bert and his family there. Kurt became a purchasing agent for the men's clothing manufacturer, Michaels- Stern and Company, and later at Rochester Telephone Company (Frontier). In April 9, 1959 he met Sheila Gissin at an International Dance Festival at the YWCA. They married exactly one year later and danced together for 50 years. They had two children. David Ira, born November 2, 1962, named for Kurt’s father and Susan Pennie, born June 6, 1964 and named in memory of Kurt’s aunt killed in the Holocaust. Kurt has two grandsons, Aron Max Reingold and Alexander Joseph Weinbach.
Kurt became a frequent speaker for CHAI as well as for the Rochester Junior Chamber of Commerce where, even though a new immigrant, he won the annual speaker’s award. He became president of the Purchasing Agents Association and a board member at the Rochester Jewish Federation as well as a volunteer for the International Sister Cities of Rochester. Kurt’s unique story has been told in four books and student publications in four languages, including Chinese. Kurt passed away September 20, 2010.
Biography written by Barbara Appelbaum adapted from Perilous Journeys