Simon Wiesenthal in Buczacz, Ukrainian Galicia then a part of Austria-Hungary, now a part of the Lviv Oblast section of Ukraine, to a Jewish merchant family. He graduated from the Technical University of Prague in 1932 after being denied admission to the Lwów University of Technology because of quota restrictions on Jewish students. In 1936, he married Cyla MĆ¼ller, and they had a daughter, Paulina, who lives in Israel.
Wiesenthal was living in Lwów, then Poland (formerly Lemberg, now called Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine), when World War II began. As a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Lwów was occupied by the Soviet Union on 17 September 1939. Wiesenthal's stepfather and stepbrother were killed by agents of the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, as a part of the anti-Polish repressions designed to eliminate all Polish intelligentsia. Wiesenthal was forced to close his firm and work in a factory. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941, Wiesenthal and his family were captured.
Simon Wiesenthal survived the Holocaust thanks to the intervention of a man named Bodnar, a Ukrainian auxiliary policeman who, on 6 July 1941, saved him from execution by the Nazis then occupying Lwów, as recalled in Wiesenthal's memoir, The Murderers Among Us, written with Joseph Wechsberg. Wiesenthal and his wife were first imprisoned in the Janowska Street camp in the suburbs of the city, where they were forced to work on the local railroad. Members of the Home Army, the underground Polish army, helped Cyla Wiesenthal escape from the camp and provided her with false papers in exchange for diagrams of railroad junctions drawn by her husband. Cyla Wiesenthal was able to hide her Jewish identity from the Nazis because of her blonde hair and survived the war as a forced-laborer in the Rhineland. Until the end of the war, Simon believed she had perished in the Warsaw Uprising.
However, Simon Wiesenthal was not as fortunate. With the help of a deputy director of the camp he managed to escape from Janowska right before the Nazis executed the camp's inmates in October of 1943 but was recaptured in June of the following year. After two failed suicide attempts Wiesenthal and the 34 remaining Janowska prisoners were sent on a death march from camps in Poland and Germany to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. By the time he was liberated, he had been imprisoned in 12 different concentration camps, including five death camps, and had narrowly escaped execution on a number of occasions.
Together, Cyla and Simon Wiesenthal lost 89 relatives during the Holocaust.