The Laguna Woods resident endured the horrors of the Holocaust and got a fresh start on the US Orange County Register

Happy birthday, may you live to be 100 years old. This is a popular birthday wish that spans generations and cultures.

For Helen Weil of Laguna Woods, that wish has come true. In fact, she recently turned 101 years old.

Healthy and mentally sharp enough to outperform many much younger seniors, Weil attributes her longevity and health to positive attitudes. “You have to have a sense of humor,” she says.

Weil’s life has not been without its challenges, but her tireless optimism has served her well in overcoming them.

Weil was born in 1921 in Garzweiler, a town not far from Cologne that was demolished for a mine in the early 1980s. She was just 17 when 1938’s “Kristallnacht,” or Night of Broken Glass, took place, when Nazi stormtroopers rampaged through Jewish neighborhoods across Germany and Austria, destroying synagogues, homes and businesses, and attacking local residents who appeared Jewish to them.

“I was still in Germany during the Kristallnacht when our synagogues and everything else burned and was totally destroyed without the fire brigade or anyone else doing anything about it,” Weil said in a recent interview at her home.

Weil eventually lost her parents and older sister when the Nazis deported her to a concentration camp.

Because myself survived. Although she was too old for the “Kindertransport” program, which evacuated thousands of Jewish children from Nazi-controlled areas of Europe to Britain, she was able to flee to England with the help of the family dentist who moved there and procured a visa for her after she had him had contacted, she recalled.

“I was staying with a family who owned a hairdressing/beauty salon in Hull in the Yorkshire region,” she said. “I was helping out in the shop because my visa didn’t allow me to take a job.”

After 18 months in England, she got a visa number for the United States and ended up in New York at the age of 20. In the end she stayed with her aunt Fanny and her family.

Weil’s younger brother Erwin Levy survived thanks to the “Kindertransport” and also ended up in the USA.

“My brother also lived here in the village; he lived to be 96 years old,” she said.

In New York she met and married Adolph Weil, who had changed his name to Al Weil. The couple lived with her in-laws for 10 years, she recalled.

She worked in the Manhattan apparel industry as a dressmaker, assembler, and designer.

“I loved this job of making clothes and making people happy,” Weil said.

When the couple moved to New Jersey, she switched again, working at her husband’s hardware store in New Milford, where she learned “all about nuts and bolts,” Weil says with a laugh.

After 23 years, they sold the hardware store and moved to California when their son Franklin, now 77, completed his medical internship at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The couple ended up in what was then Leisure World, where they had friends.

Al Weil lived to be a 101; Helen Weil still lives in her former apartment. She has four children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. “We do Facetime together,” she said.

Along with maintaining her positivity and attitude, Weil remains active. She plays accordion and piano and is an avid member of the Topic Masters Club, a social club where members discuss a variety of topics, answer questions and challenge one another’s general knowledge.

“I’ve been a member for six years,” Weil said, adding that because she doesn’t drive anymore, someone picks her up and takes her there.

Weil is also a member of the Vision Club as she suffers from what she calls “myopia” and macular degeneration.

When Weil was in her 90s, she enrolled in the 90+ Study, a UC Irvine program initiated in 2003 to study “the elders.”

The program began in 1981 as the Leisure World Cohort Study, in which Leisure World residents in their 90s completed surveys about what contributed to their longevity.

Now more than 90 participants are getting their first MRI and PET scans, showing electrical impulses of the brain and its overall function.

“When a friend and I heard about the program, we signed up immediately,” Weil said.

UCI researchers visit the participants every six months to record their physical health and memory functions. “They asked us to recite backwards letters that were read to us and, for example, how many animals or foods we could name in a minute.”

(The study is recruiting new participants. To learn more, visit

Weil’s 90+ age group was first seen in 2014 and again in 2020 on CBS’ 60 Minutes, starring Leslie Stahl.

Weil said she told Stahl how she keeps a positive attitude: She wakes up every morning to Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant, who asks her to set the alarm at 6:30 am every night

“I’m energized when I wake up, and being a very optimistic person, I know it’s going to be a very good day,” she said.

Nowadays, Weil watches Jeopardy and loves the television show Frazier. She enjoys sitting on her balcony and watching the golfers hit balls on the small golf course below.

“I like to sit and chat or walk around just to meet people to talk to,” she said. “If I find someone just glued to their phone, I’ll walk past them.” The Laguna Woods resident endured the horrors of the Holocaust and got a fresh start on the US Orange County Register

Dais Johnston

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