Kandel was born in 1929 in Vienna, Austria, in a middle-class Ashkenazi Jewish family. His mother, Charlotte Kandel (née Zimels), was born in 1897 in Kolomyya, Pokuttya (modern Ukraine). She came from a well-educated middle-class family. At that time Kolomyya was in Eastern Poland. His father, Hermann Kandel, was born in 1898 into a poor family in Olesko, Galicia (then part of Austria-Hungary). At the beginning of World War I, his parents moved to Vienna where they met and married in 1923. Shortly after, Eric's father established a toy store. They were a thoroughly assimilated and acculturated family, who had to leave Austria after the country had been annexed by Germany in March 1938. Then Aryanization (Arisierung) started; attacks on Jews escalated; and Jewish property was confiscated. Eventually, when Eric was 9, he and his brother Ludwig, 14, boarded the "Gerolstein" at Antwerp in Belgium and joined their uncle in Brooklyn on May 11, 1939. Later his parents succeeded in moving to the US.