Interview with Harry Weiss, former Williamsburg resident

Interview with Harry Weiss, former Williamsburg resident

I’m delighted to be posting another video conversation with a Jewish Williamsburg “old-timer,” this one with Harry/Chaim Weiss.

Harry Weiss was born September 24, 1949, in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and he lived there until 1960. Harry’s parents, who were from Hungary, survived Auschwitz and the Holocaust. His father opened up a furniture-making factory on Marcy Ave. and Keap St. in 1955 and then moved the factory to Flushing Ave. Harry joined the furniture business in 1968 and stayed in the Flushing location until 1991. Many of his clients were of the Hasidic community. Harry has many colorful memories of those transformative 50s and in the neighborhood.

Here are some pictures and excerpts from Harry’s testimony:

Harry on the bottom right, with parents and adult relatives who were all survivors.

At 3:30, Harry tells the story of his father in the Holocaust.

“My mother and father, both survived Auschwitz. And all the camps and all the Munkatabe, slave labor. In 1942, in Hungary, every single town in Hungary had to contribute a certain amount of slave labor. The Hungarian word was Munkatabe.

So my father was taken to Munkatabe… And then he went to Ukraine. And he saw the slaughter in Babi Yar. And in Stanislav. How thousands upon thousands of Jews were being slaughtered… Shuls were being burned…

My father comes home… And this was 1943. End of ’43. Two years he was away. He comes home, and he tells his father: ‘Tatti, I saw how they’re killing Jews.’

Because the Jews in Hungary, didn’t know what was going on in Poland with the Nazis… they didn’t believe it. So he told his father what he saw.

Father and son went to the Rebbe to repeat the testimony and ask the Rebbe what to do.

So he yelled at my father.

“You’re a liar. Twelve, ten years ago, you were a Zionist. You’re scaring people.”

And then of course in April 1944, Achron Shel Pesach, which is the last day of Pesach, the Jews of (??) were taken by wagon or walking, I think twenty miles, or twenty kilometers, to Mátészalka, which was a ghetto… and then they were put on the wagon and taken to Auschwitz.”

Harry in the furniture factory

At 23 minutes, Harry talks about how they didn’t want to hurt their Holocaust survivor parents.

“But Frieda, this story I’m telling you is the same story of thousands upon thousands of children of Holocaust survivors.

There’s one thing that we did not want to do, myself and all my brothers and many others. The last thing we wanted to do was to hurt our parents who suffered so much in the Holocaust. So I think that kept us in line… a little bit.”

At 27 minutes, Harry talks about the Holocaust survivors living with a sense of lost time.

“My parents’ social life was limited. They didn’t want to make time for other people. They were busy raising their children the way they wanted. The right way. Because they had lost a lot of time. My father got married again at a late age: in the early 30s. And that’s what they wanted.”

Yr 1953. Harry and his brothers in front of their home on 126 Lee Ave.

At 34 minutes, Harry talks about being very young and traversing Brooklyn alone at the end of the school day, when it got dark early.

“Can you imagine? 1955, 1956, and 1957; five, six, seven, and eight-year-old kids, going on the subway all by ourselves.

Did my parents worry about it?


Could my father have done anything about it?

No, because he was busy making a living in the factory. He didn’t have time.

My mother. She was too busy preparing supper and doing the laundry…”

Harry driving in Williamsburg

At 42 minutes, Harry talks about the Spalding ball.

“The first thing you had to have in Williamsburg was a Spalding. A pinky. If you didn’t have a pinky, you were lost. When I went to yeshiva, I had a pinky. Ten cents, a quarter, we used to buy it…”

At 46 minutes, Harry tells a story that I thought about long after our talk:

“There was a Chinese Laundry downstairs in my building. We didn’t have a television… We used to go watch television at the end of shabbes at my aunt and uncle’s on 10th street… Shows that, there was no sex, no profanity or anything.

But Thursday nights, there was a show called Zorro. Zorro was a Mexican guy protecting the poor people. And there was Sergeant Garcia that used to steal money from the poor people, and this guy Zorro was in this mask, and he used to help poor people. So this was a show that was very famous in 1957, 1956.

And we would go to the laundry, downstairs, and watch television. In the Chinese laundry, Mr. Yu, which was right in front of my downstairs: There was Meal Mart and then Chinese laundry. And we watched the show.

And suddenly, there is a Hasidic man, he comes inside, and he sees me watching television. He didn’t know who I am, he didn’t say anything, he left. The next week he comes back again, and I don’t know what or where, and he looks behind the counter. And sure enough, he sees his kid sitting there. With long side-curls. He had recognized one of his sons, who was also in the Chinese laundry, watching this show…

And he went, as we say, meshuga. He started yelling… And the next day, the kid came to school, believe it or not, one of his side-curls was cut off.

The father punished him: If you are watching television, you don’t deserve side-curls.

He was a survivor. A very nice man.

And I met the brother [from this family] over the years. And every time I see them, I relate this story to them… One of the brothers lives in Williamsburg, very successful in real estate… and this is the kid who the father cut the side-curls…”

Harry at his bar mitzvah


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