Leo Spitzer was born September 11, 1939 in La Paz, Bolivia to Eugen and Rosie Wolfinger Spitzer. The Spitzers were Austrian Jewish refugees from Rechnitz and Vienna, who fled to Bolivia in July 1939, arriving just weeks before the outbreak of WWII and the birth of their first child, Leo. The family was able to obtain Bolivian visas through Ella Wolfinger Becker, Rosie's sister, who had emigrated to La Paz several months earlier. Ella fled Austria in the late summer of 1938 and illegally entered Switzerland. She was sent to the Albishaus refugee camp operated by the Schweizerischer Israelitischer Armenpflegen. After she became ill and needed an appendectomy, she left the camp and found work as a nanny for a Swiss family and became romantically involved with a Swiss man. While Ella's position was relatively secure, that of her parents, Nathan and Bertha Wolfinger, was not. They had crossed into Switzerland a few months after Ella, but had been arrested immediately and placed in a refugee camp. Fearful that her parents would be expelled back to Austria, Ella accepted a personally distasteful bargain. Her former boyfriend from Vienna, Peter Becker, who had recently emigrated to Bolivia, offered to send Bolivian visas for both Ella and her parents if she would marry him when she got there. Ella reluctantly agreed and soon after her marriage arranged visas for several other members of her extended family, including Rosie and Eugen Spitzer and Eugen's parents, Leopold and Caroline (Lina) Spitzer. The Spitzers sailed from Genoa aboard the SS Virgilio.
During their initial years in the Andean capital of La Paz, the extended family pulled close together and pooled their economic and other resources in order to sustain one another. However, the dislocation and personal demands placed upon Ella, their sponsor, were more than she could bear. Ella divorced her husband one year after their wedding and committed suicide in 1943.
Eugen and Rosie Spitzer had married only a year before leaving Vienna, where he had completed training as a plumber and electrician and she, as a hat maker. In La Paz Eugen utilized his skills to secure work on various construction projects, and he soon prospered. The Spitzers gave birth to a second child, Elly, in 1944. The children attended the Kinderheim (a kindergarten, boarding school and daycare center) and later, La Escuela Boliviana-Israelita elementary school in La Paz, both sponsored by the German-Jewish community or Comunidad Israelita (founded in 1939). Soon after the war the first members of the Wolfinger/Spitzer family emigrated to the U.S. Leo left with his grandmother Lina in March 1950 and was followed six months later by his parents and sister