Cyla Wiesenthal

Wife of the Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal
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The Independent Online

Cyla Müller: born Buczacz, Austro-Hungarian Empire 1908, married 1936 Simon Wiesenthal (one daughter); died Vienna 10 November 2003.

Cyla Wiesenthal's life during the Second World War was stranger than fiction and her life after it was one of attempting to keep out of the media spotlight attracted by her husband, Simon, in his often successful attempts to bring Nazi war criminals to heel. The couple were married for 67 years and she felt that, after the horrific events of the war, they deserved a peaceful, quiet, domestic life. Simon Wiesenthal felt it was his duty, having survived against the odds, to seek justice for the millions of Nazi victims who had not survived.

Cyla Müller was born into a middle-class Jewish family in 1908, in Buczacz. The town was then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It was a small but relatively prosperous industrial town, its citizens Ukrainians, Poles, Germans and Jews. Intellectual life flourished.

Yet, by the time Cyla was 12, the town was in steep decline. In 1911 the Jews were attacked by Ukrainian Catholic peasants and this gave a boost to emigration. The Russian occupation during the First World War brought with it much suffering. The town was occupied at the end of the war first by the Ukrainian nationalists and then by the Bolsheviks before it became part of the Polish Republic in 1920. A typhus epidemic also took its toll of the children. Cyla was lucky to be alive.

Cyla Müller attended the local grammar school (Gymnasium) where Simon Wiesenthal was also a pupil. They became close friends and when Simon's widowed mother remarried and left Buczacz, he decided to stay there, lodging with the Müllers and completing his schooling in 1928. After being turned down by the Lvov Polytechnic because of restrictions on Jews, Simon Wiesenthal enrolled at the Technical University in Prague. He graduated in architectural engineering in 1932.

In 1936 Cyla and Simon married and lived in Lvov, then Poland's third largest city. Their peace was shattered in September 1939 when, under the terms of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Lvov was occupied by the Soviet army. Simon Wiesenthal's stepfather was arrested by the Soviet secret police and eventually died in prison, his stepbrother was shot, and Wiesenthal himself became a mechanic in a bedspring factory. Later he saved himself, Cyla, and his mother from deportation to Siberia by bribing a Soviet commissar.

When, after the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Germans displaced the Russians in 1941, a former employee serving in the collaborationist Ukrainian Auxiliary police, helped Simon Wiesenthal to escape execution by the Nazis. But he was arrested and he and Cyla were assigned to the forced labour camp serving the Lvov railway repair shop. Worse was to come in 1942. That summer, most of Simon and Cyla's relatives, 89 in total, were killed in the Nazi holocaust.

Simon Wiesenthal made a deal with the Polish underground. In return for charts of rail junction points made by him for use by saboteurs, Cyla was provided with false papers identifying her as "Irene Kowalska", a Pole, and spirited out of the camp in the autumn of 1942.

She lived first in Lublin and then in Warsaw for two years before having to leave. Once again she was lucky. The street where she had lived in Warsaw was blown up by the Germans. Friends believed she was dead. Without her true identity being discovered, she worked as a forced labourer in the Rhineland until the British arrived just before the war ended.

After many horrific experiences, Simon Wiesenthal was liberated from Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria on 5 May 1945. Simon and Cyla each thought the other was dead. As he worked for the American War Crimes Office, Simon was better able to seek information on Cyla's fate. Meanwhile, Cyla returned to Lvov where, almost by chance, she saw a message for her on the Jewish community's notice board. The couple were reunited at the end of 1945 and chose to live in Vienna where their only child, Paulinka, was born.

Despite Simon Wiesenthal's growing success in tracking down Nazi criminals and bringing them to justice, they lived modestly and Cyla devoted her life to her family.

David Childs