Wilek was the son of Jewish parents living in the southeastern Polish town of Lvov. His family owned and operated a winery that had been in family hands since 1870. Wilek's father died of a heart attack in 1929. Wilek entered secondary school in 1939. Soon after he began school, World War II began with the German invasion of Poland. Lvov was in the part of eastern Poland annexed by the Soviet Union. Although the Soviets took over Wilek's home and the family business, Wilek was able to continue his schooling. On June 22, 1941, German forces invaded the Soviet Union. The Germans occupied Lvov and established a ghetto there. Wilek was among a small group of Jews who left the ghetto daily to work, making roofing paper for the German army. In 1943, shortly before the Germans destroyed the Lvov ghetto, Wilek obtained false papers, assumed the name of a Christian coworker, and fled to Hungary. He became a courier for the resistance in Budapest and was eventually arrested by the Germans as a Polish spy. He was sent to the Auschwitz camp in October 1944. Wilek was among thousands of prisoners sent on a death march to the German interior as Allied forces advanced. He was liberated by US forces in April 1945, and immigrated to the United States in 1949.
I went to Pappapol. They called it later on the Pappenfabrik. Pappapol is a factory, or was a factory, that made, uh, tar paper for the roofs. And what they, uh, the way they were doing is, you roll out a three-foot section of paper and you dunk it into asphalt, layer out, you roll it out, and there are some people who were, uh, using, uh, dry sand and covering the wet asphalt and that becomes a tar paper. What they were looking for workers who could, um, carry balls of paper, 75 to 80 kilos paper, to go from one place, from, say, from a truck, to the depot that they had it right in the back, uh, or a storage place, uh, and, uh, deposit that. And I wasn't sure that I could do that, but if that meant to have an I.D. and be protected, I better do it. I walked in, into, uh, the office and told them that I would, uh, like this work if they could, uh, have me. And there was a man called Fessel. He was a Jew from Silesia, Silesia, Slask, it was in Poland, and he looked at me and close to him there was a foreman, a Polish foreman. I forget his name. And he ask him, "Can you use this young fellow?" And he says, "Yes, I can, only if he could carry that ball." And he took me out and test me out, and he selected a ball, the largest ball, 75 kilos. It was, every ball was written out, uh, was numbered and I picked it up and I carried it and I dropped it the place where he wanted me to drop it, and he hired me on the spot.