Name: Martin Weingarten
Died: April 16
Martin Weingarten was born in the midst of the Spanish flu, during the most severe pandemic in recent history, the son of two confectionery owners in Austria.
He would grow into a curious and anxious teenager who would watch from the family’s fourth-floor apartment as the Nazis brutally beat his Jewish neighbors on the sidewalks of Vienna.
Weingarten escaped and spent 80 glorious years in the United States, first in New York working for his uncle, then at a US Air Force base. Then to Maryland, as an employee of the United States Census Bureau.
Weingarten died April 16 in Carmel amid the most recent global pandemic. Coronavirus was ruled his cause of death, according to his nephew Joe Weingarten.
He never knew he had contracted COVID-19. At the time of his death, Weingarten suffered from dementia, his nephew said.
But this 100-year-old man never let the trials of his life taint his prospects or destroy his goodwill.
“Oh, he was very friendly, very happy,” said Joe Weingarten, 75, of Fishers. “He was always the nicest guy in the room. He was always smiling, always one of those good-hearted guys.”
Weingarten was born on Nov. 28, 1919, during the Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 flu pandemic. This health crisis was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. .
The flu spread around the world and, from 1918 to 1919, infected 500 million people, or a third of the world’s population. The number of deaths is estimated at at least 50 million, including about 675,000 in the United States, according to the CDC.
Weingarten, however, was born safe and sound to Mancie and Isak Weingarten, the youngest of three boys.
The family lived in an apartment above the candy store in a “quiet environment” with a “close-knit family,” Weingarten wrote in a 9-page, 45,000-word document for his family that he titled “A brief personal history of myself and Family.”
By the time he was a teenager, Weingarten’s parents sold the confectionery and opened a general store, offering household items like soaps, cleaning supplies, and a variety of perfumes. It was a great financial success, enough for the Weingartens to buy two four-story apartment buildings and move their family to the top floor of one of them.
Weingarten, even as a young boy, was always interested in world events. He became more interested as the world around him grew dire. Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi Party, insisted that Austria be merged with Germany.
“In the end, Hitler managed to lure the head of the Austrian government to a fateful meeting, where he forcibly detained him and removed him from office,” Weingarten wrote.
This meeting was followed by Germany’s invasion of Austria on March 12, 1938.
A few weeks after the invasion, Izak Weingarten was arrested, along with other Jewish business owners, by Nazi authorities. He was detained and threatened. He was eventually released, only after agreeing to give up his general store and appoint an administrator for apartment buildings.
“We were all, of course, relieved to see him come home safely,” Weingarten wrote. “The loss of property and income was no longer significant.”
Weingarten, 18, and his brother Morris managed to obtain the proper documentation and, in the summer of 1938, left Vienna by train for Konstanz in Germany. There they hoped to cross into Switzerland. Rumor has it that the Gestapo, Germany’s secret police in Konstanz, help guide emigrants across the Swiss border.
“Emigrants were only allowed to take 10 deutsche marks out of Germany, but our father had given us a number of dollar bills which we hid in a stick of shaving soap,” Weingarten wrote.
With the help of Gestapo officers, accommodation was arranged for Weingarten in a former abandoned youth hostel nearby in Switzerland. While there with other young Jewish men, they did work, repairs and maintenance, and sometimes played games and sports.
In early March 1939, after almost eight months in the camp, the Weingarten brothers received a message from the American Embassy in Zurich telling them that their entry visas were ready. After having traveled to Zurich and then Antwerp, they embark on a steamer bound for New York.
Over the next 80 years, Weingarten would never take the life he led for granted.
A stint in the US Army in 1943 before being medically discharged for scarlet fever. Obtained his college diploma in business administration and statistics in June 1959.
And his marriage to his dear Elisabeth in February 1950.
At 39, after working for his uncle for nearly two decades, Weingarten landed a job as a management analyst at an airbase in Rome, New York. He was then transferred to the Census Bureau in Suitland, Maryland. He ended his 26-year career there as principal economic adviser to the deputy director of economic areas in 1984.
Until a few years ago, Weingarten still read the “Wall Street Journal” every day, his nephew said. Visiting him one day at the Stratford in Carmel, Joe Weingarten noticed the journal under his uncle’s arm.
He asked someone at Stratford if he was still reading it. “No, he just wears it everywhere,” he was told. Joe Weingarten canceled his uncle’s subscription. On his next visit, Weingarten had found a copy of IndyStar and hid it under his arm.
Weingarten and Elisabeth moved to the Stratford retirement community about 10 years ago to be near her nephew. He and Elisabeth, who died several years ago, never had children, due to her time in four concentration camps.
Indianapolis Star contribution