In March 1936, Martin Weil celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in Nazi Germany, surrounded by his family. In his speech, he thanked his parents for all the love they had lavished on him, and expressed the hope that he would always live as an observant Jew, of whom they could be proud. In 1939, Martin left Berlin for England on the Kindertransport. His family was murdered at Auschwitz.
Martin (Meir) Weil was born in 1923 in Berlin, to Harriet née Joelson and Sally-Shmuel Weil. He had three sisters – Felice (b. 1922), Hannah (b. 1924) and Netty (b. 1927), and a younger brother, Siegfried (Sigi) Rubin (b. 1932). On his mother's side, he was a direct descendant of Rabbi Natan Adler, Chief Rabbi of the British Empire in the years 1845-90. Sally fought in the ranks of the German Army in World War I, and was awarded the Iron Cross. Martin went to a Jewish school, and was active in the "Ezra" youth movement.
In March 1936, Martin celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in a synagogue in Berlin. He concluded his speech with the following words:
I would like to read out the verses of the Haftarah, which I see as a guiding principle for my entire life, the principle that the prophet Malachi chooses as a foundation for Jewish prophecy. He says: "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers..." [Malachi, 3, 23-24]. This gives expression [to the idea] that our people can only survive if the friction between parents and children is redressed. I particularly want to thank the Lord, blessed be He, for giving me a family without this kind of friction. Special thanks to you, my dear parents, for all the love and effort you have invested in me up to this day, the day of my Bar Mitzvah. May God give me the strength to live always as an observant, righteous Jew, so that you can always be proud of me.
In 1937, Sally lost his position as sales representative in the textile company where he worked. He retrained as an upholsterer in preparation for emigration, such courses organized by the Reich Representation of German Jews (German: Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden), for Jews who had lost their livelihood. In April 1938, Martin started attending the Ort school in Berlin, where he studied metalwork for a little over a year.
During the November Pogrom ("Kristallnacht") on 9 November 1938, Sally went into hiding, and was thus not one of tens of thousands of Jewish men who were arrested and taken to concentration camps in Germany. As a result of this traumatic turn of events, Sally and Harriet searched for an escape route for their family. They decided to immigrate to South America, and started learning Spanish together with the children. They contacted the Uruguayan embassy in Paris to apply for visas, but fell victim to fraud: the exorbitant visas that arrived were forged, and the family remained in Germany. Martin asked to leave for England. The anti-Jewish legislation, the humiliation, abuse and violence experienced by the Jews in Germany had left him prone to sleeplessness and nightmares. Despite his father's resistance, Martin succeeded in persuading him, and in April 1939, he left Berlin for England on the Kindertransport. Sally wanted the family to stay together. "I was sixteen, enthusiastic and determined to leave," relates Martin. "The time came… the moment I boarded the Kindertransport ship in Hamburg, I was walking on air. I was sure that the others would follow me there."
After living with relatives for three months, Martin found work as an apprentice in a company where he could apply his skills and acquire experience in the metalwork industry. By day he worked, and in the evenings he learned English. Throughout this period, he corresponded with his family in Berlin. On 3 February 1943, Sally, Harriet, Netty, Hannah and Sigi sent a telegram to Martin in England via the Red Cross, and wished him a happy 20th birthday:
Good news! We are all well, working as usual, including Netty with her sewing. The family of Uncle [?] and Aunt Ella [Ella Zuntz, Harriet's sister] has left [deported to Terezin]. Heartfelt wishes for a happy birthday. Why don't you think about your brother's birthdays?
Kisses, Father Sally Weil, Netty, Hannah, Sigi and Muti [German nickname for Mother] Harriet Weil.
Martin only received the telegram in May 1943. It was the last sign of life from his parents. On 26 February 1943, a deportation train left Berlin for Auschwitz. The deportees included Martin's parents, Sally and Harriet, his sisters Hannah and Netty and his brother Sigi. His sister Felice remained in Berlin and worked as a nurse in the Jewish hospital there. On 4 August 1943, some six months after her family had been deported from Berlin, Felice was deported to the Terezin ghetto together with a group of doctors and nurses from the Jewish hospital, at that point the last Jewish institution in Berlin. In the ghetto, Felice worked as a nurse in the children's home. In a postcard sent on 27 July 1944 to her mother's brother, Herman Joelson in Sweden, she wrote:
Unfortunately I haven't heard from you recently. I am taking this opportunity to write you a few lines. I am well. Working… The Zuntz family has left [deported to Auschwitz]. Have you heard anything from my beloved parents, my sisters and brother? I wait for you to send me only good news as soon as possible.
Your niece, Felice
On 12 October 1944, after over a year in the Terezin ghetto, Felice was deported to Auschwitz.
In 1945, Martin discovered that he was the only survivor of his family. The grief and anguish of this loss accompanied him throughout his life. In 1948, he got married and settled down in Birmingham, England.
In 1975, Martin Weil submitted Pages of Testimony to Yad Vashem in memory of his parents Harriet and Sally, his sisters Felice, Hannah and Netty, and his brother Sigi.
Martin passed away in 2016 in England. After his death, documents, personal letters and other items shedding light on the fate of the Weil family in the Holocaust were donated to Yad Vashem as part of the national project, "Gathering the Fragments", including Martin's Bar Mitzvah speech, displayed here.