by Shepsl Kaplan
I see Olshan before my eyes, every house, young and old, their daily lives during the week, Jewish Olshan was lively on Shabbos and holidays. I remember, and it speaks to my hearta neighborhood, an atmosphere. My memories are filled with uplift and love.
A summer evening in Olshan: Parents sit on their steps, the youngsters are out walking behind the town in the woods, around the lake and in other nice spots, blessed by Nature. Even in winter, the town was lively. Snow and ice didn't keep people from walking in the streets. Friends would meet in the library, in the theater group, even dance to the music of an orchestra.
Olshan was like a little town in White Russia, which had belonged to Poland until WW II. It was a rural life, which started in summer early in the AM, still dark. The cows were let out to pasture, daily work was performed, after a few crumbs for breakfast, then some feed for the cows. In winter they processed cabbage, neighbors helped each other. They rendered goose fat and made gribenes; in the copper pot was boiled sagonchik and onions, and that's the way it was for generations until the German invasion.
Jewish life pervaded all the streets and alleys, ending at the Market Square. Four straight streets and six crooked alleys led to the lake, which from beginning of spring to late autumn was filled with bathers, Jews and Christians, young and old. Cultural life was concentrated in the shuls and the library where there were periodic performances by traveling theater ensembles.
The market place, with its two Jewish farms, was empty all week. Only on Sunday and market days was it lively. It seemed entirely different near Shabbos. The Jews went in the afternoon from Mincha to Maariv, to walk, stand on the bridge for a while near the water mill, chat a bit with Aaron the miller, and go further beyond the town to the fields. One might rest under the leafy pear tree, to get some fresh air, then go to pray Mincha. Here I bring a few personalities who personify the life style of Jewish Olshan:
Bruch the Pharmacist
Bruch Abramovitch was revered in the town because of his conviviality and energy, which he had inherited from his grandfather and father. In the first years of liberated Poland, he was chosen to be a councilman, and he protected the interests of the Jews, downtrodden after WW I, and demanded that they be treated as equal citizens, like the Poles. After the RussoPolish war, he put his energy into forming a cooperative People's Bank, in order to serve the poorest in the town. Thanks to his enterprise, the bank rapidly developed significant credit for the Olshaners to revive their town.
Bruch was a brilliant speaker. His words in the council were heeded by both Jews and Christians. His oldest son finished chemistry in Vilna University in 1939. His younger son had shown unusual talent as a painter. As a child of five, he had drawn with pencil the portraits of Joseph Pilsudski and President Moshchitzki; he received thank you letters from the Polish leaders. Bruch's wife and four children suffered in various camps, and Bruch was shot by the Germans in the first weeks of the bloody conquest.
Samuel Leib Dolinski and his Community Activity
The Olshan intelligentsia included the family of attorney Dolinski. He was born and raised in Vilna. His parents, intelligent ordinary people, provided a university education. He came to Olshan in 1905, sent by the central ZionistSocialist movement of Vilna to promote the organization. As a brilliant speaker and organizer, Dolinski rapidly won the hearts of the Olshan youth, which had already been organized into the ranks of the revolutionary Bund groups which dominated Olshan. The gifted Dolinski, with his propaganda, successfully tore away some members of the strong and wellorganized Bund party, and won them over to the ZionistSocialist movement.
Olshan youth was already poised for a revolutionary movement. In those days, a large library had been created of Jewish, Russian and Hebrew books, nurtured by Mishkol Nachum Leib Abeliovich. Soon after his arrival, Dolinski worked as secretary to the Jewish mayor Goldanski. The young student met Goldanski's daughter Cherna, and later they married. After the wedding, Dolinski founded a modern RussianJewish shul. In independent Poland, between the wars, Dolinski practiced law. His five sons received higher education and were raised in the nationalprogressive Jewish spirit. The family had a special attraction to agriculture. Therefore Dolinski bought five hectares of land which his five sons, in their free time, learned how to cultivate. For this purpose Dolinski built a large barn next to his house, where his sons would load the crops of wheat, corn, barley, oats, and helped thresh the grains.. And that's the way it was until Olshan was occupied by Hitler and his murderous army.
Gershon Abramovitch and his Building
Gershon was called ‘pharaoh’, because he had played that role, king of Egypt. For many years, Gershon was busy building a new beys hamidrash, at the same time as a chevra kadusha. He was at the head of his congregation, which was several hundred years old. Gershon was also a good bal tfiloh, with a distinctive voice. With his lyric tenor voice, he improvised on the most famous cantors. His final high note, with which he used to end the service, was memorable. Only one of his six daughters survived, Chana, who had made it to Israel before the war. She died there in 1964.
The Olshan Shokhet MordechaiNoteh and his Peasant Background
One of the most distinctive characters in Olshan was the shokhet, MordechaiNoteh. His father was a gardener and a farmer, and from Mordechai's childhood, he was uncommonly fascinated by farming. He didn't change his mind later, but fullfilled his dream.
His best years were spent in the yeshivahs of Voloshin, Mirre, and Slobodka. Everywhere he was a top student, and he was ordained at 25. Then he returned to his father's home and helped him to earn a living. Only after his parents died did he take on the position as shokhet in Olshan. Shortly thereafter, he realized his dream of returning to the land. He had bought ten hectares, farmed it with his own hands and the aid of his family. He sowed, reaped , threshed, tended cows, calves, horses and donkeys. He acquired a barn, an irrigator, a scythe, and established himself as an agricultural innovator.
In spite of his hard work and long hours, he continued to attend shul three times a day, and to study a little Gemorah. He also found time to console, also assist the oppressed and the poor.
This honest pious peasant family suffered the same fate as all the Olshan Jews. In 1942, the Voloshin ghetto Jews were slaughtered, including his daughter, her husband and two children. Also in 1942, his mother along with 400 Jews was killed in an aktion, carried out by the Germans with the aid of the ghetto police in Ashmen ghetto.
After their disastrous fates in the ghettos and camps, the remnants of the family were herded to Klage in Estonia. Two days before liberation by the Soviet army, the rest of them were incinerated, except for the miraculous survival of Aharon, his youngest son, now in Israel. His oldest son Elye perished in Panor.
Reb Shimon Segalovitch the BalTfiloh
He was one of the most prominent leaders in the town. He was a student and a flour merchant, with three sons, David, BruchShmuel, Kalman, in the flax business. They were the founders and directors of the charity organization up to the last moment. A daughter perished in Zelianka. The only remnant of this far flung family is his son Bruch's wife Rivkah, now living in America.
Rev Yudel the ‘Rufah’ and his Wife the ‘Heyvn’ [Midwife]
He was an army medic, but because of his scholarly appearance, he was called the Rufa. His welltended smoothly combed white beard, his elegant presence, black cane with silver handle made him look like a professor.
Most of the medicines used by R. Yudel to heal his patients, Jewish or Christian, were selected from: leeches, piovket, rizinoil, and molinas for sweating. If a poor patient didn't have any money to buy molinas, Yudel didn't charge him. Yudel's wife, dear Yenta, brought molinas and other confections to stimulate the heart. Yudel never wrote out any prescriptions. He personally went to the pharmacist to deliver them. Many patients felt that this was a benefit, that the medic himself helped to prepare the prescription for them.
There was another medic in town, a Pole, Krukovski, who was not as popular as Yudel. At Yudel's place, handsome ornate wagons and carriages often stayed waiting for him, the ‘noble Yudel’, and carried him off at a gallop to tend to a wealthy or noble client. After returning from a trip, Yudel first went to the pharmacist, ordered the medicines, and only then returned to his office, which was always full of patients.
Yudel's wife Liba Yenta was a midwife, who delivered children for the Jewish women of the town. Though childless herself, she loved the infants she delivered, calling them her grandchildren, often kissing and hugging them, and brought gifts. Liba Yenta was also the leader on Shabbos and Yomtov, in the ‘ezras nishim’, the women's section. Often she would gather contributions to divide among the needy. She and Yudel were much beloved in the shtetl. Every Shabbos at their table there were many unexpected guests.
Liba Yenta died just before WWI, and that ended Yudel's career. During the German occupation, Yudel lost his practice, became poor and depressed. In the town at that time there was a field hospital with German doctors who also provided civilian care. Impoverished, Yudel died after WWI.
Reb Itsche the Shamesh and Teacher
His slender income as shamesh in the new shul, and as a teacher often left him unoccupied by the end of the week. But he was a Jew with a lot of spirit, generous and cheerful, so he did everything for free. Because he was so short, his students crowned him as ‘tal umtor’, and that stuck with him for the rest of his life. But they loved him and were attentive. The free time after teaching was spent in the Beys Hamidrash, where he cleaned and swept, took care of the books. In winter, he heated the stoveshe thought this was all holy work. He really loved children, compared to other shameshes, who used to exclude the poor orphans from the shul. Reb Itsche welcomed them, sat them down by the warm stove in winter and told them stories about the good Jews; this always charmed the children.
The town dignitaries admired him for the care he took of the shul, as did the needy ones, who had a warm place to sit on wintry frosty nights.
Reb Yunah Gdalye the Timber Merchant
Yunah was the youngest of four brothers. He was a rich Jew, a timber merchant who , Motel and created a big business with an excellent clientele. He himself dressed elegantly, aristocratically, and had a smooth mastery of Russian and Polish. He was respected and admired by the Jews, as well as the Russians and Poles. He was aloof from the affairs of the congregation. Stiff and formal, he looked down from his reserved seat in the new shul, thus reinforcing their respect and admiration for him.
His wife Bella died in Olshan when the Germans came. Their son and daughter, Motel and Mirke, suffered in the camps. One daughter, ChanaTsipa got to Israel before the war. The youngest son stayed in Russia, and lives now in Israel.
Bunya Kaplan and Reb Eliah Schwartz
Bunya Kaplan was one of the most respected figures in Olshan. His house was always open to needy Jews and Christians, no one went away empty handed. He was a symbol of cordiality, always surrounded by friends and women activists, who also provided help for poor Jewish families. Bunya felt strongly that he must always be receptive. Either alone or with his children, every Erev Shabbos, they had to deliver challah and meat, and also a few zlotys.
Always a scholar, Bunya honored his religious parents and grandparents. His grandfather, a leather artisan in Ashmen, had experienced the death of Bunya's young father. The grandfather imbued his grandchildren with traditional religious spirit and implanted in them good will, honesty, love of the Jewish people and the urge to help the poor and oppressed. Reb Elia Hirsch made it his mission to marry off poor girls to men, to whom he gave money for the dowry. With his grandchildren, he hosted the guests until dawn. Bunya, the dearest of his grandchildren, had a fine voice, and took his grandfather along to sing joyously with the guests.
Two weeks after Reb Elia arranged a wedding for his only daughter Sarah, Bunya's mother, a remarkable event occurred. Just at that time, a groom of a poor bride, arranged by Reb Elia, stubbornly refused to enter the khupa, because the bride's dowry did not include any winter fodder. Immediately Reb Elia went to his daughter and told her about it. She brought her own dowry provision and gave it to her father, who kissed her thankfully, took the fodder back to the bride. The satisfied groom then entered the khupa, and they all had a big party.
Twice daily, winter or summer, Reb Elia rode his horse and wagon from the edge of town to the Beys Hamidrash to pray. Often he returned without his coat or hat which he had given away to someone with tattered or torn clothes. Elia's death was grieved by all. The funeral took place on a market day. Out of respect, all the farmers closed their stalls, and accompanied the procession. From the table where he had taught, a plaque was made in his memory, and was placed in his grave. The youngest most beloved grandchildren of Reb Elia, Bunya and Mayer, were murdered by the Germans.
Beryl the Kaiser
Beryl was called ‘Kaiser’ by both Jews and goyim. He was an expert cobbler, a good brother to all. And when he was especially happy he kissed everybody. He was also able to break the bones of any hooligan who tried to make fun of him. As well as being a very talented cobbler, Beryl had a special duty: At dawn, he wakened the Jews to prayer on Shabbos and called them into shul.
On a severe winter morning, under the influence of too many drinks, Beryl crawled under the window of a Christian neighbor, and awoke him by singing, Get up! Get up! you holy Jews. Get up for services! The goy just continued to sleep and wasn't even angry at Beryl. The name ‘Kaiser’ stuck to him because of a role he had played in a theater once.
Dudka the Blacksmith
Dudka was born in Biuchiska, a town 7 km away. His forebears had lived there for generations, farming, like all the peasants. Dudka's father had taken on the fiery profession of being a blacksmith. He serviced the horses and wagons of the town's peasants, and thus supported a large family. At 17, he came to Olshan and worked as an assistant to the blacksmith David Koslovski, who has been noted earlier.
Children used to run to the smithy to watch the sparks fly and to admire Dudka's skill. Dudka would grasp the heavy hammer by the end of its wooden handle in his muscular hand and swing it. He demonstrated other difficult feats working with iron. They called him Samson; no one could approach his skill and strength with the giant hammer.
Dudka's performance, his incredibly strong hands were admired not only by the Jews, but also by the goyim. They all feared his strength. Any ruffian who tried to match him would certainly avoid any further contact.
In his youth, Dudka was a goodnatured quiet boy, steady and cheerful, always smiling, with blue eyes and blond hair. He loved children and enjoyed playing with them. When any Jews were threatened, Dudka was soon there. Often he didn't bother to take off his work clothes. He would approach the group of hooligans and immediately attack the group leader. At the first blow, these ruffians would flee. Woe to any who would try to fight Dudka who would overcome them with his strong hands. They would run off, like frightened mice. Dudka, contented and cheerful would return to his job as if nothing had happened.
A few years before WWII, Dudka married a girl from a nearby town. His fate after the German invasion is not known. His only sister Golda, the youngest in the family, and her husband were put into the Olshan ghetto. When the ghetto was liquidated, Golda ran back to her town and was sheltered by some Christian neighbors. But the same Christian friends murdered her a few days before the arrival of Soviet forces.
Joshua the Blacksmith
A cheerful carefree type, Joshua always greeted people with a good word or a joke. On Friday nights, he was always the last to leave the shul, in order to take home anyone who was poor. Even in the middle of the week, he would never dine without a needy guest. In his shop, because of his diligence and punctuality, he was respected and esteemed by everyone..
From his father, Joshua inherited the profession of healing by incantations . He had lots of patients, and he never took any payment. When asked if he really believed in his remedies, he answered, That's not important, it's whatever the sick person believes, otherwise he wouldn't have come to me. His belief in my talking cure helps him.
Olshan was always distinguished by its remarkably healthy strong Jews, ordinary men who feared no one. The Kozlovskis belonged to such a family. They were called ‘Pinchukes’, a dynastic name from a great great grandfather, Pinye. For generations, they were blacksmiths and iron mongers. Under all circumstances, they would react with their iron fists to protect Jewish property.
Olshan had its ruffians and alcoholics, like other towns. Fairly often, on market days, a drunken city or town hooligan would quarrel with a Jewish vendor. It was enough however, if one of the Pinchukes was present, the ruffians would flee like mice. No matter how drunk they were, they knew the strength of a Pinchuk.
In Tsarist times and later in independent Poland, annually, in autumn, there were groups of recruits for the militia passing through town. For two months, the Pinchukes stood ready on call, to defend the Jews against ruffians' attacks. After the recruits passed through Olshan, the excited rabble hiding in the adjacent woods came back to Olshan and Oshmen, and quarreled with the remaining Jews, farmers and the poor market vendors. But soon the Pinchukes showed up with their iron weapons and dispersed the mob of hundreds, who fled like rabbits, with bloody scalps and broken ribs, abandoning their horses and wagons. The police were pleased to see the hoodlums beaten, and they helped to remove the horses and wagons.
Peshe the Baker
Peshe was known as the Bagdanoverin. She was left as a widow with seven small children. With remarkable energy, she triumphed over her misfortune, and opened a modern bakery for bread and pastry. When the children were a little older, Peshe opened a restaurant, an impressive undertaking. She married off her first four daughters, got ready for the next two, and made plans for her son.
But fate turned out otherwise. Peshe and her children were moved along with the other Jews to ghettos and camps. On the eve of liberation, she was killed. In the German Aktion of children extermination, all the grandchildren were taken. Peshe's six daughters and her son survived; five of them with their brother now live in Israel.
Blume Berkman was known in town as an upright woman. She had been left as a young widow with six children, but this misfortune did not deter her. She raised her family, raised crops from her little farm, and gave her children a good Jewish education. She sent them to public school, which didn't charge tuition.
Two daughters were sent by Blume to Israel before WWII. A son and daughter remained in Poland and survived the horrors of the ghetto, and now live in Israel.
When Shmuel Boyarsky, a famous Yeshiva boy, married the daughter of Reb Shlomo Potashnik, all the mothers of eligible daughters looked at Reb Shlomo and his wife Dinah, and said, when you are rich, you have luck. Friends tried to console those who begrudged the unionthis prize package might still not work out.
In reality, Reb Shlomo and Dinah had no regrets. Quickly, their yeshiva boy became an aggressive developer. His tiny farm became a big business. Shmuel became an active participant in all the religious and social institutions, and was respected by all.
Shmuel and his wife Chasya suffered the same fate as all the Olshan Jews. They starved in ghettos and camps, experienced overwhelming misfortunes, persecution and terror. Shmuel succumbed in January 1944 in a camp. His wife Chasya died in another camp. Their son Simon, a daughter Rachel and a son Abraham now live in America. Their youngest son died tragically when he was run over by a fire engine, on the way to combat an alltoocommon fire in Olshan.
Reb Leib the Butcher
Reb Leib considered he was in a blessed condition; to bring a piece of meat from his store into the house was a sign of success, said the women. It was a special privilege for the Jews of his shul, when Reb Leib led Shabbos prayers. People said that one understood perfectly every passage.. Leib and his wife Rivke had six sons and one daughter. His house was always light, neat and cheerful. All the children were welleducated. The older ones helped the younger ones. Bruch Hersh helped his younger brother to finish medicine, and he planned to emigrate. Chaim, who lives in America, helped to found a music school in Vilna. The only survivor is Yossel Gurevitch, who lives in Canada.
Hirschl was a noted yeshiva scholar, who moved to Volozhin. He felt comfortable in the outside world, and was familiar with Hebrew and Jewish literature. He was quickly married off in Olshan, then became a teacher of religion in the shul. However his remuneration as a teacher was not enough to support the burden of caring for his family of six and he had to resort to the generosity of his sisterinlaw Sara, who had an old inheritance.
This turn of events was heartbreaking for Herschl. He had tried to make a decent living, but his spirit was broken. He sickened and died young. He had planned to send his two older children, Rishke and Isaac, to America. The younger ones, Avke and Schlomke returned to Olshan, and are now in America. His wife Rachel died in Zhelianka.
The Varonovsky Family
The brothers Herschl and Reuben Varonovsky were well known in Olshan. They had a business of their own in the market place making soda water and other drinks. Their lives ended tragically like most of the Jews of the town. Herschl and his wife Golde Teibe were killed in Zhelianka. Their older son Avrohom Shlomo, a gifted painter, died in a death camp. Their younger son Aaron, a lawyer, returned to the ghetto from Volozhin with his bride Liusa. They were captured and murdered by the White Russian police of Vishneva. Reuben Varonovsky was tortured in a death camp; his only daughter Peitche, survived and lives in Israel.
The Gurvitch Family
Reb Elihu and his wife Chaya Rocha were highly respected. Reb Elihu was very lively, goodhumored he was a wood gatherer. He was also very active in the religious community as a scholar, a prayer leader and was an excellent tenor singer. He organized and participated in all the religious and social functions in the town, and continued to appear on the stage as singer and actor. He also sang in the Beys Hamidrash choir, conducted by Cantor Isaac Gershon. Unfortunately he died at an early age during WWI. The whole burden of supporting the family fell on the frail Chaya Rocha. She maintained the tradition of helping the oppressed and needy. Despite her crooked spine, she sheltered in her home two orphans of a younger sister, and raised them along with her own two orphans. One of them, Blume, successfully made it to Israel before WWII.
Because of Chaya Rocha's poor health, her young daughter Shaina Blume was forced to take over, and from her little farm, she made enough to support her young brother Chanye in Vilna, where he was going to school.
Shaina Blume, despite her difficult work, continued her cultural activity. She found time to read Yiddish, Russian, Polish, and took part in the burgeoning youth culture. Her home was a meeting place for Olshan youths and their theater circle. For fifteen years, she was in the theater group, playing lead roles and singing as a soloist in operettas.
Chaya Rocha died on the eve of WWII. Her daughter perished in Zhezhmir in Lithuania and her husband Isaac was killed in Kovno. The youngest and sole survivor Chanye was drafted into the Polish army in September 1939. He suffered imprisonment by the Germans but managed to escape to Israel in 1942.
Reb Mayer the ‘Agent’
Mayer Rudnick was not called by his family name, but by his businessas an ‘agent’. Reb Mayer had distinguished himself among the town's residents by his wealth and his elegant life style. His wooden home in the center of town was noted for its comfort and beauty both inside and out. The path from his house to the sidewalk was lined by a bluewhite fence, planted with colorful fragrant flowers which attracted all passersby. The glass veranda on entry and the bluewhite doors framed by branches, the fruit orchard behind the house, caught everyone's attention.
In Tsarist times, before WWI, Reb Mayer arranged travel to America for both Jews and Christians, who had material or political motives to leave Olshan. Such emigrants came to Reb Mayer, the ‘agent’, agreed on a price, and were then taken to Vilna, to the Hotel Venezia, owned by his brother Moshe. This was close to the Exchange. Reb Moshe took care of all the passengers' needs until they boarded ship.
From his easy work, Rudnick constructed his palatial home, and also gave major donations to the Tsarist police and other officials, as well as to the needy oppressed Jews of Olshan.
Reb Mayer spent WWI in Russia. After Polish independence, he returned to Olshan, but his business was gone, and he had no other trade. As matters grew worse for him, he sold his property and emigrated, not to America where he had sent so many others, but to Israel, where he lives in Jerusalem.
[Memories of childhood]
by Mina ZhalovskiLitzki
My father's house was built after the Partition. Next to our house were humble peasants' shacks with roofs of straw. Behind our house sprouted a greensgarden, a grassy field. In summer it was full of wheat and corn. I recall such summer days. Part of the harvest was already cut and tied into sheaves, while the rest awaited reaping. A big pile rested in the barn full of bundles of straw and ears of corn, which had to be shucked. The cows waited to be milked.
My father Alikum Litsky led a quiet peaceful life as an ordinary peasant. He pursued his business industriously and lived a traditional Jewish life in the shtetl. He worked the earth with his magic hands, he tilled, plowed, sowed and reaped. We children really enjoyed working with him, helping to reap and bind the sheaves. It was a special privilege to sit on the wagon atop the harvested crops and ride into the barn, where we had to lower our heads to clear the entry.
After the work was done, when we returned from the field covered with dust and straw, the whole family washed up, then had lunch, which consisted of a bowl of unpeeled boiled potatoes, beet borscht or sauerkraut, some barley kasha with lima beans or some rice pudding with milk, and to end the meal, a glass of milk. It was a heartwarming atmosphere at home. After saying prayers, we rested for a while before returning to work refreshed.
On Shabbos and holidays, we children all went to shul with our father, sat next to him and prayed. When we came home, our goyish neighbors bowed their heads, to acknowledge the Shabbos tradition of our father, and greeted us amicably. They recognized my father as one of them, who worked hard and sweated to earn his daily bread from the earth. My father believed that we all lived in the lap of nature, the basis of our entire lives. Nature was the love of his life in this small town setting. Our Christian neighbors often remarked that they should be inspired by our example.
And so the years passed. His life would have followed its natural course, but was then disrupted by the hellish German onslaught, which uprooted the entire Jewish community, including my father. He was driven off his land to which he had devoted his life, and would never see it again. [Minna ZholovskiLitzky]
by Shifra KutinTrovsky
Oshmen Street extended from the Market to the bridge by the pond. The last house in the street belonged to Lokem, who worked on the land and had a little wooden shack. He worked hard for his family of small children. Despite his hard work he was always goodnatured and friendly.
On the same block lived Benjamin the blacksmith, his wife Hinde and their three daughters. The oldest daughter Teibele, a student in the Oshmen high school, was killed in the Volozhin ghetto.
Near the bridge by the pond, lived Michl the glazier and his two daughters. He worked hard all his life, going from house to house replacing windows. When he became old and sick, his older daughter Chaya Sara took over his business. I often saw her carrying a wooden chest containing sheets of glass seeking work. She was the wage earner for the family. Her sister Rachel was weak and sickly, unable to work. Their little old cabin was always neat and clean.
My cousins lived in the next house near the pond, Afrim and his wife Mume Chashe. Their daughters Basye and Rachel Leah were quiet and modest. Afrim was a tall healthy man, who used to drive his horse and wagon to Vilna in the hot rainy summer and freezing winters, transporting farm produce. He was always generous and very accommodating. Mume Chashe managed an efficient household, and also helped with the income. On market day, one could always get a good lunch at her place. In spring, she sold compost to the gardeners. The young boys and girls of the townfriends of Rachel and Basye used to gather together at Chashe's house.. At night, the house was filled with laughter and song. The kids used to pass the time away with innocent games.
Next door lived a widow, Devorale, with her children. She operated a bakery selling bread and rolls, cookies with poppy seeds. Naturally, in the bakery, no one slept at night, so that fresh bread might be ready early in the morning. My second cousin, Yankel, his wife Mume Frume and their children operated a cafe, and were very competent. He was always goodnatured, a smile on his face. Tsimach their son died in childhood. His wife Hennye and her daughter Chana died in the German attack.
In 1943, Yankel and Mume escaped from Zhezhmir camp to Olshan, and hid in the forest. It was winter, they lit a fire, and a peasant reported it to the Germans, who shot the mother and daughter. The son, Bentzia, died in Kovno, Their two little children died in a children's Aktion. Bentzia's wife Perl lives in America. Yankel's daughter Grunya is the only family member to survive, in America.
Life in My Family
Our family name was Trovsky. There were seven children, four daughters and three sons. Asher, the father, worked his whole life in the forest. I remember, when I was a child, he used to go to Danzig to bring home toys for the children, and he'd tell us about the big city. I used to boast and exaggerate to my friends about this German city.
We lived in two big houses with beautiful spacious rooms. The walls were covered with multicolored tapestries. A path led to a hill near the house, entered by a high wooden gate. Behind the house was a cultivated garden, where every year the whole family worked to plant all sorts of greenery and potatoes.
Under the house was a large walled cellar. In autumn it was filled with vegetables and potatoes for the whole year. The mother, a tall beautiful Jewess, was a good housekeeper, who took good care of the children. She was cheerful, loved to sing, to tell little jokes. She concerned herself not only for her children but also for the neighbors. I remember how my mother in winter, used to throw dry wood over the fence for the neighbors. She never had to clean up our sweat though we used to sleep two in a bed. Our house was open to all.
My father was handsome, with a little pointed beard, always neatly dressed. His whole life was dedicated to the children. His work was not difficult, but it was essential that the children must learn. He told us, I do everything to give you an education, that's the most important thing in life. In every free moment he was reading a newspaper or bookhe was interested in everything. We children had in him a friend. I told him everything, and he always gave me a reliable explanation. He implanted in us our love for people and work.
In winter father spent the evenings playing chess with cousin Yankel. They talked about politics and the future of the Jews in Poland. In the last years before the war, the situation became progressively worse, while antisemitism increased.
by Eliezer Potashnik
Our mother Dinah's life was filled with extraordinary love of Torah and with charitable behavior. On holidays, she was busy at home but always found time to help the needy, with heartfelt dedication. The women always contributed to her monthly or weekly collections. She herself went collecting, then was brought home by others. During WWI, when food was scarce, she always had a piece of bread for the needy.
She was so happy when she was able to have a prayer service at home on Shabbos, or on a weekday. She was dedicated to learning Torah. She was a saintly person, determined that her children would lead an observant life; she sent her son to a Yeshiva.
In spite of being such an extraordinarily devoted mother, during the stormy days of the war, she sent her son away from home to learn Torah. How remarkable, to send her son away during those times. Against all odds, she was determined that her children must become Torah scholars. When she came to Israel, she immediately devoted herself to charity work, until she passed away. Survivors include my brother Herschl, in Israel. His wife and five children were killed in Panor.
[A memorial for my parents]
by Reuben Liond
Velvel Liond was born into a religious family, living in Olshan for generations. As a harepashnik he became a revolutionary activist in 1905, a comrade in the workers movement. However he remained faithful to his Jewish identity.
Our grandfather Israel Liond, was one of the recognized leaders in the town. He assumed responsibility for the Beys Hamidrash, and he was also an advisor to Prince Yogmen, who owned Olshan. As such he would bring necessities to the congregation.
Our grandmother Shima, a good honest lady, took on responsibility for assisting the poor, a Jewish tradition. When her son, my father Ben Yichid, joined the workers movement, her health declined and she died at an early age.
In their later years, my parents sold their farm, which had been inherited from the grandfather, and was no longer productive. My father worked transporting passengers to the train station in Bogdanov.Our mother Rachel, a sensitive considerate woman, took in guests whom our father brought home from shul. No hungry or needy person could leave her home without sharing our meal at least once a week.
My older sister Zipporah and my brother Simon belonged to the Zionist movement. Our parents didn't understand the need for this. When the time came to emigrate to Israel, there were no funds, so the farm was sold, thus enabling the children to go to Israel.
Our dear parents perished in a death camp in Zhelianka in the second Aktion in the Ashmen ghetto, managed with the active participation of the Vilna Jewish Ghetto Police.
[A memorial to the parents and children of this widespread family, victims of the third Jewish destruction]
by Zeydl Bagdanovski
The Abramovitch family was noted as one of the most deeply rooted ancient families in Olshan. In the village they were known affectionately as the ‘Zimchukes’, based on an ancestor's family name ‘Zimel’
Zimel was a tall handsome man with dark eyes and long broad beard, clever and folksy, friendly and cheerful, a singer he was a unifying force, and he waited around for occasional opportunities. Zimel had time to sit a little longer in the shul, to study, and sometimes picked up some business. His wife Rivka also earned a little. She was an energetic little woman who would sit all day in the market place to sell fruits and greens. They lived together with their son Gershon in a large elegant house, a stable and a vegetable garden.
Gershon inherited his father's values, and became a merchant in fruits and flax. In summer, he bought up all the fruit from the neighboring Christian farmers, filling his barn so that the fragrance pervaded the whole street. In winter, the barn was transformed into a flax factory, where the workers cleaned up, assorted and packed the flax for export.
Gershon's home was open and drew in people from far and wide. The warm atmosphere of the house was created by his wife, Rikle [Bogdanovski], who bore and raised twelve children, six daughters and six sons. At her Shabbos table, there were always 16 house guests, besides 45 family guests and visitors as well as those brought home by Gershon from shul. Gershon labored long to create a new shul. He was much beloved, but died suddenly of a heart attack.
Gershon's oldest son, Eliezer Zelig, was a romantic type, who wrote well and with deep feeling for the theater and for art. He was quite active in cultural matters. With an amateur troupe of the town youth, he staged Goldfaden's The Khishufmacherin, ‘the romantic melodrama Shulamit, the folk saga Bar Kochba, and others.’ He was a distinguished and famous balladeer.
In WWI, 191518, he served as a soldier on the front, then found out that his wife had died. With his four children, he moved to Kharkov in the Ukraine. There, together with his second wife, he was killed at the hands of White Russian pogromists, during the civil war in Russia 1919. Three of his four children, Saul, Aaron, Genisie, now live in Israel.
Some of his brothers and sisters emigrated to America, later bringing over his mother Rikle and all the children, except two brothers, who remained in Olshan, maintaining the family tradition.
Bruch had an extraordinary personality, concentrating all the good traits of his family. His intelligence was reflected in his dedication to intensive social activities. As the only pharmacist in the area, he also found time to become an advisor to the town council. There he proudly defended the interests of the Jews of the town, and fought against any discrimination. He founded a People's Bank, where he was a permanent director. He was a fine speaker and was loved by the Christians as well as the Jews. During the Soviet occupation, he was honored and respected. Consequently, he was Olshan's first victim of the Nazis. He was arrested and tortured in Oshmen. His wife Dinah and all four of his children, died later in various death camps.
His brother Shepsel was another remarkable man, multitalented with his own strengths. After his father's death, he took over the management of the large family, acted as a father to his younger brothers and sisters, until they emigrated to America. Step by step, he achieved unusual success in the flax business, and in social activities.
With his wife Gutl , Isaac Kozlovski's daughter, he enlarged and beautified the large house that he had inherited from his father. He established a factory to process and pack flax, which employed over a hundred workers, supporting many families. He soon became renowned as one of the largest exporters in the flax business, and later founded two more flax processing plants in Vilna. During the Soviet period, Shepsel worked as a chief flax distributor.
Shepsel suffered like all the ghetto inhabitants of Olshan and Vilna, and perished in a death camp in 1943 in Estonia. His wife Gitl died in Panor in 1942. Their two older sons Isaac and Gershon died in the Shemberger death camp. [cf. the article The Shemberger Hell]. Their daughter Rivka, her husband Leib, after their 3 1/2 year old son was killed in a Kinder Aktion, escaped from the Vilna ghetto and now live in America. Their youngest son Ziml escaped to a Soviet unit, studied in Kiev and volunteered in the Soviet army. He was active in the battle against the fascist murderers, became an officer, was severely wounded, but got several citations and medals, and now lives in Israel. [Zeydel Bogdanovski]
In memory of Aaron Voronovsky and the many branches of the family
Aaron descended from a much honored family deeply rooted in Olshan for generations. His grandfathers, Avrohom Koslovsky and Avrohom Yididihes were renowned as wealthy, respected and dedicated to Torah. Of Abraham's children, Isaac was a spiritual type, a scholar, clever and capable, but not so good at business. When his little farm plot was insufficient to support his family, he left it to his wife, Chaya Grunye, to manage, and he left for America. Though he was a hard worker, he wasn't able to put down any roots in the halfJewish American milieu, and he returned home in a few years, to his little farm and his Beys Hamidrash. To this family were born Aaron and Golde Taibe.
Times had changed, but not the Jewish tradition. Aaron was blessed with extraordinary ability and energy, but was poor and had to contend with an oppressive antisemitic atmosphere. Yet he managed to find a way to the University in Vilna where he began to study law. After two years, with good recommendations, he was accepted to the university in Warsaw. And there he met a man named Pilsudski. He studied under him and finished with a gold medal, the only Jew that year. While he was searching for a practice opportunity, difficult for Jews, the clouds of WWII were darkening. In 1939, he wrote to his cousin Shlomo in America:
Dear Shlomo I'm sending you copies of my documents, because there is so much unrest in Central Europe near us, and one can't know what the next day brings. So I'm thinking ahead, remembering WWI, and if such a cataclysm might happen again, so that's why I'm being so careful about the copies of my diploma and other documents. I may be overreacting, but it doesn't hurt. I am of military age, and if there is a crisis, there's no predicting. I hope things calm down, but in any case we must be careful. Please don't worry about me. In the last minute before total destruction of war fever, people of good will will find a peaceful way out, to thwart the forces of evil.
What blindness! To find a refuge for his papers, but not for himself. He had not imagined, along with millions of his brethren, how dark the future was from the murderous forces to be unleashed on the peaceful world. And how weak and few among the men of good will. This was evident on the day of the slaughter in the Volozhin ghetto, where he got lost in the confused chaotic flight, tried to save himself in the last minute, and was killed while fleeing. His older brother AvrohomShlomo, an artist, was killed in a second camp. His parents died during the second Aktion in the Oshmen ghetto in Zielanke
by An Olshaner
Reb Nachum Potashnik came from Volozhin and was the first of his family in Olshan. He was much honored and beloved. He appeared patriarchal, with a long white beard and sharp eyes. His main business was dealing in ‘tvuah’. He was quite busy and proud of his occupation. He was a symbol of honesty and truth.
But his greatest interest was in the Beys Hamidrash. Before dawn, in rain or snow he was always there studying the scriptures. He distanced himself from the congregation, which honored him. He was always ready for any special occasion, especially on Simchas Torah, when he was given the Aliyah, carried the Torah, and on Pesach, when he read the Omer.
When he died, his son Avrohom and his wife Rachel, carried on his work and traditions. They were known to both Christians and Jews as upright citizens. For years they were supporters of the Beys Hamidrash. Avrohom was killed by the Nazis.
Reb Nachum's youngest son Asher was considered among the prominent men in the town. Everyone respected and trusted him. He was a religious Jew, and was tolerant of all. His generosity influenced his whole family. His family were all well educated. He distributed charity freely. Asher was killed in the Kovno ghetto in 1943. The Olshan community had asked him to stay there until the war was over, but he refused. He didn't want to be separated from his family and the Jews of his ghetto.
Asher's wife, Chane Sarah, daughter of Joshua Landsman, from Trav, was truly generous. With her intelligence and deep understanding, she fostered in her home a warm atmosphere, and her children were very close. She used to send out a pot of food daily for poor strangers, and supplied everything possible for the local poor. She died in Zhelianka in 1942. Asher and Chana had eight sonsBeryl, Sender, Leib, Leizer, Shaia, Avrohom Elia, Yossel and Max.
Beryl and Sender married in Oshmen, lived comfortably and were respected in the town. Beryl, his wife Rachel, and son Chaim were killed; their daughter Minna was rescued and lives in Israel.
Leib Potashnik moved to America after WWI. On his initiative, with his wife Basye Abramovitch, a union for Olshan emigres was formed, which sent aid to Olshan. Leib and Basye became the address for all Olshaners who needed help. In 1929, after the great pogrom, they organized an assistance program for the victims. They uncovered the graves and contributed significant sums for rebuilding the burned institutions.
Lazer Potashnik studied in a Yeshivah in Russia before WWI. On the way home he contracted typhus and died in Cherkask at age 20. Shaia Potashnik and his wife Rosa Cohen lived in Sventzian, and had a cultural life. Up to the time of his marriage, Shaia was quite active in Olshan. He died in Dachau in 1944.
Yosef experienced the same persecution as all the Olshaners in the ghettos and camps. He survived, made it to Israel, married, lived in peace, until he suddenly died in 1958, leaving behind his wife Ida Kulier, of Oshmen, with two sons.
Avrohom survived the hell of Dachau, and now lives in New York. Max, the youngest, was drafted into the Polish army after the German attack. When the Olshan ghetto was liquidated, the Jews were moved to Oshmen. Max, some other boys and his future wife Anye fled into the forest, and joined the Belski partisan brigade. After the Soviets retook Olshan, Max and Anye returned, then emigrated to Baltimore.
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