Phillip (Falk) Maisel z”l and his twin sister Bella were born in Vilna, Poland, in 1922. They were part of an upper middle-class family, and had a brother, Josef, who was six years older.
Their parents, Samuel and Slava, had grown up in Russia, but escaped the revolution and settled in Vilna, in North-Eastern Poland. Their father Samuel ran a profitable flax export business, together with four Jewish partners. Their mother Slava, a very educated woman, died when Phillip was only ten years old.
Vilna had a population of 200,000 people. With 60,000 Jews, Jewish life in Vilna was influential. Phillip’s family was moderately religious. Phillip was sent to a French kindergarten and then attended a private Jewish gymnasium. In his last two years of schooling he was sent to a Polish government school, where he experienced strong discrimination. This prompted him to work hard and he became the best student in his class.
In July 1940 Phillip received his matriculation. At this time, Vilna was the capital city of Lithuania, having been granted to them by the Soviet Union at the start of the war. In August, the Russians annexed Lithuania and immediately started to prosecute the bourgeoisie and intelligentsia. Phillip’s father was stripped of his business. Phillip was concerned about applying to university because in the eyes of the Russians he did not belong to the correct class. Instead he found work in a paper shop.