The Life and Destruction of Olshan
(Halshany, Belarus)

54°15' / 26°01'

Translation of
Lebn um umkum fun Olshan

Edited by: Former residents of Olshan in Israel (Irgun Yotzey Olshan)

Published in Tel Aviv, 1965


Project Coordinators

Jack Leibman

Sheldon Clare (emeritus)


This is a translation from: Lebn um umkum fun Olshan;
The life and destruction of Olshan. Tel Aviv, former residents of Olshan in Israel (Irgun Yotzey Olshan), 1965. (H,Y)

Note: The original book can be seen online at the NY Public Library site: Olshan

Purchase details for a printed copy of this translation can be found at

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Introduction about this translation

I am a retired physician, now 88, born in 1927 in Baltimore, living in San Francisco since 1951. I received my B.A. from Johns Hopkins U. in 1947, and my M.D. from U. of Maryland in 1951. Since then, I have been writing intermittently, initially in the scientific area, then more generally, mostly essays, reportage, memoirs, poetry, and a few translations from German.

I knew very little about my family background. But my son, who is much more interested in genealogy than I, had come up with some interesting new information about my father's origins, new to me. He had ferreted out copies of my father's naturalization certificate and his draft registration, which led to additional facts about the actual location of his village in Poland-I had always thought it was in Russia. My father had served in the Russian Army in WWI, and had been wounded. When he came to the US in 1923, he left behind a family, a wife and two sons. Somehow he, his mother and younger sister made their way to Copenhagen, and boarded a ship to America. And the outlines of his subsequent history were fairly clear. He had married my mother in 1926; she had come from a shtetl in Latvia, named Preili. But what about his earlier history in Poland? His shtetl was named Olshon or Olshan, near Lithuania, an area occupied by the Germans in WWI, then for three years by the Russians, interrupted by Cossack raids, then again by the Poles, the Russians, and finally by the Germans. During the Russian interval, my father had been drafted into the Russian army. Then came a momentous finding by my son. He had discovered, from an archive in the NY Public Library, a Yizkor book about Olshan. A Yizkor book is a remembrance volume, dedicated to the history of a town and its inhabitants, and there were many such volumes to honor each small town eradicated by the holocaust.

As I glanced at this volume on-line, I noted that the more Polish name of the town was Holshany, that there were 580 pages, and it was all in Yiddish. I had learned to read and understand Yiddish in my childhood, and with the aid of some fluency in German, a dictionary and a few consultants, I began to read. I found that I was able to translate most of the material, much of it written in a clear colloquial style, reminiscent of the sounds of my childhood. Of course I hoped to find some mention of my family name, and indeed I came across several brief references, in a list of land plot owners- a pair of brothers perhaps, dated 1929, most likely cousins. The Necrology contained two memorials for at least three with my family name, and also one picture I remembered as the husband of my aunt.

The history described daily life in the shtetl of Olshan, before, during and after WWI, the inter war period and the Holocaust in great detail, enlivened by personal anecdotes about many of the more prominent town inhabitants, often enhanced by nicknames. A final section describes the remarkable odyssey of a young man's career as a partisan.And so I became engrossed first by the challenge of the translation, then by the remarkable vignettes themselves, culminating in the exciting survival odyssey of a young partisan fighter.

I was informed that this Yizkor book was originally translated by Sheldon I. Clare, under the auspices of JewishGen. Repeated contacts with Mr. Clare and the associated web searches have revealed only the Table of Contents, the Necrology and one chapter on “The Jews of my Generation”. Therefore I have undertaken my own comprehensive translation.

Jack Leibman



[Page 2]

Book Committee

Executive Committee

Shabtai Kaplan, Ziml Abramovitch, Pesakh Gershonovitch, Shifra Kotin-Trabski, Reuven Leond, Aharon Shuster


Aharon Abramovitch, Arye Gershoni, Yitzhok Khodosh, Yakov Kozlovski, Khaniya Yisraeli (Gurvitz), Moshe Ziskond

Editor of Hebrew Part

Meir Shli

[Page 3]

Reception by the Book Committee for Yakov and Batya Kaplan from America
Sitting from Left: Ziml Abramovitch, Shabtai Kaplan, Batya Kaplan, Yakov Kaplan, Ayre Gershoni, Aharon Abramovitch
Standing from left: Khanya Yisraeli, Reuven Leond, Aharon Shuster, Shifra Kotin-Trabski, Yakov Kozlovski, Pesakh Gershonovitch, Moshe Ziskond, Yitzhok Khodosh


The Town of Olshan Until World War I
17 Historical Notes  
19-39 The Jews of My Generation Yakov Kaplan
40-44 What I Remember About the Shtetl Olshan B. Z. Goldberg
45-48 This Is What the Shtetl Looked Like Shepsl Kaplan
48-50 The Jewish Workers Movement Moshe Baron
The Period Between the World Wars
53-60 In the Years of the First World War Shepsl Kaplan
61-63 Child and Teenage Years Arye Gershoni
64-65 The Tragic Fate of Esther Levin Memories from 1918 Shlomo Halevi–Levin
66-68 Memories of Childhood Leah Bloch–Rudnick
69-72 Teachers, Cheders and Modern Schools Shepsl Kaplan
73 The ‘Tarbos’ School and its Educational Activity Pesakh Gershonovitz
74 The ‘Tarbos’ School – the Light of the Town Shifra Kotin–Trabsky
75-77 Report of a Letter to Friends in America  
The Religious Life
86 Rabbi Reuben Khodesh, Cantors, Singers and Prayer Leaders Shepsl Kaplan
87 The Synagogues Pesakh Gershonovitch
90 Erev Shabbos in Shtetl A.A. Potashnik
The Economic Life
95 The Jewish Peasants in Their Land Plots Pesakh Gershonovitch
97 Gardening Shepsl Kaplan
99 Weaving and Housekeeping  
101 Charity Organizations  
101 Cooperative People's Bank  
104 Linat Hatzedek Pesach Abramovitch
107 The Fire Department in Tsarist Times, and in the First Ten Years of the Polish Rule Shepsl Kaplan
108 Zionist Activity, Hakashra and my Zionist Involvement
109 Activity of the Khalutz Ariah Gershoni
110 Organization and Cultural Activity Beys–R Shifra Kotrin–Trobsky
111 Raising Money Pesakh Gershonovitch
Types of People and Images
121-138 Daily Life of the Olshan Jews Shepsl Kaplan
Bruch the Pharmacist  
Samuel Leib Dolinski and his Community Activity  
Gershon Abramovitch and his Building  
The Olshan Shokhet Mordechai–Noteh and his Peasant Background  
Reb Shimon Segalovitch the Bal–Tfiloh  
Rev Yudel the ‘Rufah’ and his Wife the ‘Heyvn’ [Midwife]  
Reb Itsche the Shamesh and Teacher  
Reb Yunah Gdalye the Timber Merchant  
Bunya Kaplan and Reb Eliah Schwartz  
Beryl the Kaiser  
Dudka the Blacksmith
Joshua the Blacksmith  
The Pinchukes  
Peshe the Baker  
Blume Berkman  
Shmuel Boyarsky  
Reb Leib the Butcher  
Hirschl Rudnick  
The Varonovsky Family  
The Gurvitch Family  
Reb Mayer the ‘Agent’  
139 Alikum Litsky and his Love of Farming Mina Zhalovski–Litzki
140 The Worker Families of Oshmen Street Shifra Kutin–Trovsky
143 Dinah Potashnik Eliezer Potashnik
144 The Liond Family Reuben Liond
145 The Abramovitch Family Zeydl Bagdanovski
148 The Koslovski Family  
150 The Potashnik Family An Olshaner
Olshaners in America
160 Emigration and Nostalgia Leib Potashnik
164 Olshaners in America Leib Potashnik
166 Loyalty and Pride Zeydl Bogdanovski
In the Years of the Jewish Extermination
169-190 The Outbreak of World War II Shepsl Kaplan
The Red Army Marches In  
Germans Occupy Olshan  
Establishment of the Jewish Council  
Looting of Jewish Possessions  
Saved From Olshan Slaughter For Disaster in Volozhin  
179 The Great Slaughter in Volozhin Isaac Ziskind
In the Volozhin Ghetto  
In the Vishniever Ghetto Gdalia Dudman
188 The Death of Rabbi Moshe Aharon Feldman  
191 From Volozhin Back to Olshan Hana Lev–Tcherniovski
193 Zhelanke– Mass Grave of 400 Jews Haya Kzura–Katz<
194-198 Under the German Regime Pesakh Gershenovitch
The Tragic Death of the Pharmacist Abramovitch, the First Victim in Olshan  
Trapped in a Gypsy Aktion  
Nazis Force Jews to Drag Two Soviet Tanks  
199-203 Olshan Jews in the Concentration Camps Shepsl Kaplan
The Leaders of the Kashidor Camp  
The Nazi Murder of Children
204 Extermination of Children by Germans in Kashidor Camp Shepsl Kaplan
207 Childhood in the Shadows of the Gallows Haya Altman Abramovitch
216 The Killing of the Children in Zhezhmir Camp Haya Kzurer–Katz
217-232 The Tortured Jews Flee to the Partisans Shepsel Kaplan
Pain and Destruction in the Aleksat Camp  
The Death March and the Escape From The Forest  
Contacts with Soviet Units and German Troops  
The Punitive Squad Fires on Our Group  
The Consequences of Liberation  
The Death of Bunye Kaplan on the Eve of Liberation  
How Bunye Was Lost  
Back to the Old Home after Liberation  
The Trail of Pain– My Father's Death  
New Camp, New Suffering  
German Peasants Bought Us For Labor  
The Orphans in the Camp on the Eve of Liberation  
233-240 The Way Through Anguish Chaya Katz–Kzurer
241 In the Extermination Camp Klage (Estonia) Aharon Shuster
254 Tortured Women in the Estonian Camp Rivka Davidson–Segalovich
262 From Camp to Camp Henye Tchepelinski
265 The Vilna Camp in the Cheap Houses R. Abramovitch–Shkop
268 My Survival in the Years of the German Final Solution Abrohom Potashnik
273 The Mass Burial Ground of Zhelianke Aaron Shuster
276 The Shemberger Mass Grave Ziml Abramovitz
Confusion and Resistance
283 The Heroic Death of Shmuel Tchepelunski's Partisan Group Michal Koslovski–Gurevitch
285 In Battle Against the Germans Ziml Abramovitch
289 Kashidor Camp and the Escape Into The Forest Sima Soladucha–Rudnick
292-364 Armed Partisan Battle Reuben Liand [Roman Liandov]
365 Final Words  
373 Victims of the Shoah (List)  
383-429 Memorial Announcements  
381-429 Necrology (Obituaries)  


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