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. He helped make 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.
The Jewish life, uh, in Lvov was, was, uh, at best can be said, uh, back in 1937, '38, what I recall, was lukewarm. It wasn't very bad, it wasn't very good. Uh, we did have our quotas going to school, as a matter of fact when I, uh, went for my exam to enter Gymnasium [secondary school] even though the Gymnasium was only, uh, 10 blocks away from me, I couldn't get in because I had a quota. And I passed, I understand, that, my entry exam, but I couldn't get in. That was back in 1938. And, uh, so, in order to continue my studies I had to move out somewhere else and I had to go to a other, uh, uh, Gymnasium back on, in Lvov, on Grodecka Street. It was known as the Jewish Gymnasium.
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