Podkamien (Poland), Sasov
West is the son of Abraham and Gusta Wieseltier of Podkamien, which is approximately 100 kilometers from Lvov, then part of Poland. His father was a butcher, and he had an older brother as well as a younger brother and sister. The family practiced Conservative Judaism and West attended the local public school as well as a Yiddish school. Podkamien had a population of about 3,000, roughly equally divided between Poles, Ukrainians, and Jews. The official language was Polish, but West spoke Yiddish at home.
Following the occupation of their village by Russian forces in 1939, West and his family were evicted from their house and had to move in with West's uncle. Otherwise little changed. German forces occupied the village in the summer of 1941, and shortly thereafter the synagogue was burned, Jews were molested, and the round-up of Jews began. Although primarily Jewish men were arrested, women were also picked up and then exchanged for men. West offered himself to the Germans in exchange for his aunt who had three children at home. He was sent to the Sasov labor camp, north of Lvov.
The work at Sasov consisted of mining stone at a quarry. Housing was in a large building where several thousand inmates were confined. Sleeping was in three bunks, food was scarce, and hygienic conditions very poor. West does not recall any facilities for washing or showering. The guards were exclusively Germans, but there was also Jewish police (Kapos).
When the Germans arrived, West's older brother fled to Russia and his mother fled with her two young children into the woods after the round-up of Jews started. His father died of typhus while West was in the labor camp.
West's mother arranged with a friend, a Christian Ukrainian, to facilitate West's escape from Sasov. This enabled him to join his mother and his brother in a bunker in the forest. When the Germans discovered the hide-out, West fled under a hail of bullets. His mother and his brother were caught and executed by the Germans. His sister had been killed earlier.
He lived in the forest and for a while in the hayloft of a friendly Ukrainian farmer until the area was liberated by the Russian army. He then joined the Russian army and served for six years, returning to Podkamien after his discharge. From there he went to Lvov where he met his wife-to-be Nora Korman. They had one son, Alex.
After the war, since West was a Polish citizen he was returned to Poland, where he and his wife lived in Warsaw for three months before emigrating to Israel. He served in the Israeli army for a short time and then found employment. He was in Israel for five years.
Through the efforts of his older brother, who had emigrated to the United States after the war West, his wife, and son came to the U. S. in 1962. He became a citizen in 1973.
Date: August 30, 2000
Length: 52 minutes
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinman
Format: Video recording