Imre Weil, age 92, passed away peacefully on August 22 at his lakeside home in Canyon Lake where he was a member of the Ski Club for more than 50 years, the longest tenure of any member.
Imre was born June 10, 1928, to Bela and Olga Weil in Budapest, Hungary. His father had been taken prisoner in World War l, spending five years in Siberia.
Upon his return, he married his wife, Olga, a piano and music teacher. In 1944, when Imre was 16 years old and his father was 57 years old, they were arrested. Olga was smuggled into a convent and was kept safe as a nun until the end of the war.
Imre and his father were on a forced march to the Hungarian border and then transported by cattle car to Buchenwald concentration camp. Somehow, father and son were not separated. Being able-bodied, both were then sent to the Colditz, an industrial factory camp mainly for prisoners of war.
During this time, they had to perform manual labor in the various facilities, such as the production of bazooka guns for the tanks.
Imre managed to get a job in the kitchen, peeling potatoes, but after three weeks, warnings and punishments, he was kicked out of the kitchen because he had been stealing the potato peelings for the barracks instead of giving them to the pigs for SS officer meals. Soon, they were transferred back to Buchenwald, but this time in order to be exterminated. They were only given a blanket and no clothes or beds.
Due to an injury in Colditz, Imre was sent to the camp hospital where he stayed hidden, along with his father, surviving for 10 days on wood, roots, and bugs until the American Forces liberation.
At first, Imre would not let his father eat the American rations, as over 5,000 had succumbed to dysentery because their systems couldn’t handle food. Instead, Imre stole dog biscuits from the SS kennels for his father and himself.
Imre decided to join a transport of Jewish children led by the Red Cross to a little town in Normandy where he remained and attended school until his 18th birthday. He was then on his own and kept his promise to his father than he would return to Hungary by the end of the year, which he did, finding his mother and father settled back in their own home.
This was not the life Imre wanted for himself and he made his way first to Paris and then to Cannes on the French Riviera where he established the water ski school at the Carlton Hotel and became a very happy “ski bum.”
In the winters, Imre would snow ski at Tignes, working as a tourist photographer. He met many influential people during this time, including Brig U.S. General O.F. Lassiter. The general had a charter jet company with a fleet of Learjets and had previously been a test pilot for Learjets.
Imre was sponsored to go to Miami for flight school for his commercial pilot’s license. This was cut short by the death of his patron and he was never able to complete this training. He felt that at his age he was also at a disadvantage to Vietnam War veterans with many flight hours.
In France, he was married for a brief time and had a daughter, Anna, who became a ballerina with the Paris Ballet Troupe.
Imre moved to Los Angeles and earned a living at first as a real estate agent, something he did not feel passionate about. He sought out new water skiing areas and found Canyon Lake, a little community of 50 homes on a man-made water ski lake in Riverside County. He was skiing every chance he could, sleeping on the shores of the lake on a camp lounge chair until he bought a little camper.
It was during this time he met the love of his life, Betsy, on a blind date. Both had been hesitant to meet, but as soon as they did, he said time had stood still for him. They married and became top real estate agents with Betsy heading the company.
Imre went to physical therapy school, something he had a great interest in from his time in France. Eventually, he had his own practice and gained a wonderful reputation for his healing powers.
Imre is the current 13 states Western Region record holder of a slalom score of 2.5 buoys at 28 mph at a rope length of 22. Last year, he was given a lifetime achievement award from the club for his years of service and friendship.
Imre is preceded in death by his cherished daughter, Anna, and his devoted wife, Betsy, and is mourned by his many nieces and nephews, godchildren, patients, and very good friends in his community.
A memorial will be held for Imre at the Canyon Lake Country Club and dockside once the risk of COVID has passed. For now, we all have our wonderful memories of this truly extraordinary man who loved life.
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