by Shepsl Kaplan
On the eve of WWII there were 200 Jewish families in Olshan. On September 1, 1939 the town shivered when the Germans attacked Poland. The effect of the news on the town was overwhelming. Many men were drafted into the Polish army. The houses from which the conscripts had left were scenes of lamentation. Women and children were weeping in the streets. Near the houses with radios, people stood listening to the news from the front. The prospects were uniformly dismal. On the first day of the war, it was known that many cities and towns in Poland had been severely damaged by bombs, and the death toll was great. In the second week, the news came to us that the high commanders of the Polish army had fled, abandoning their disorganized forces in the face of the terrifying German attack. Kartchevski, the Olshan deputy, was panicked, had run out of the police station, and announced, The bolsheviks had crossed the Polish border; the police and the civil authorities had been ordered to leave Olshan. The town has no authority left. You must organize a civilian defense group until a new power takes over.
At the Market place, the frightened Jews watched the police abandoning the town. A selfdefense group was formed, of Poles, Jews and White Russians, including some darker elements. But the news of the Soviet advance toward Vilna left mixed feelings while the town had no government. But no acts of violence occurred.
The Red Army Marches In
On the 15th day of the German attack, the Red Army marched into Olshan, without incident. The mood in the town calmed down. everyone talked about Molotov's speech on the radio, stating that the Polish government had collapsed, leaving chaotic conditions. The Germans were taking over all of Poland, and in order to save the people from the White Russians and east Ukrainians, the Red Army was liberating these areas.
For now, the entry of the Red Army had ended the war for the Jews of Olshan, Jewish life had been saved, Jews were relieved and breathed more freely. The Soviet regime had radically changed the town's organization. The young and middleaged adjusted well to the new order. Feeling themselves fairly treated, the older generation, willing or not, accustomed themselves gradually to the new system. Professionals returned to their offices. The richer farmers had lost their possessions, but their lives were safe and they started to look for employment. The civil authority was augmented from the general population. The head of office was a 20 year old Jewish boy, Misha Koslovski, an active Communist. Landless peasants, Christians and Jews were given land and were satisfied. The peasants who were dissatisfied had to submit.
Germans Occupy Olshan
Large Soviet detachments were stationed in Olshan. The Jews had settled down and felt they would remain safe. They resumed praying in the Bays Hamidrash, the children attended Hebrew school. Then on June 21, 1941 the radio news announced that the Germans had renounced their agreement with the Soviets, to the consternation of the town. Before anyone could make any plans, German planes flew over, sowing death and destruction. The connection with the outside world had been
Establishment of the Jewish Council
In the first few days of the occupation, the Germans started to force the Jews to work. They did this brutally, by grabbing the Jews in the street, from their houses and wherever they could be found. They would beat them without mercy, and together with the Polish police, they herded 300 young men 30 km from Olshan, and day after day forced them to break rocks into small pieces.
Seniors, the sick, children, and pregnant women were forced to trim branches off trees and to dig up potatoes. The situation was unbearable, and this led to the effort to organize this intolerable chaotic system. R'Khodesh and a few others in the community tried unsuccessfully to lighten the load. At that time, the commandant Jurovski informed the rabbi that the Jews must leave their homes and assemble in a ghetto, and choose a Judenrat, which would be responsible for carrying out all the demands of the Germans, and to regulate the ghetto.
At a meeting in the Bays Hamidrash, R' Khodesh announced the order of the commandant. Then he assessed the situation, and explained that the German goal was to exterminate the Jews. He advised them not to be confused, but to be aware of any possibility of lessening or avoiding this horrible fate. Despite this, the Olshan Jews decided to appoint a Judenrat. The Germans had confirmed their understanding with R' Khodesh as the most senior Jew and demanded that they be responsible for carrying out the orders of the Germans and the civilian authority. The heavy load for the performance of the Judenrat fell on R' Khodesh. After a further detailed order from the civilian authority, the Jews had to impose their own regimen and organized the Jewish ghetto police. Young men and boys were transformed into brutal oppressors of the tortured Jews. Into the shtetl, groups of Lithuanian Jews were brought, who had to be housed and maintained, and this was extremely difficult because the ghetto was so overcrowded. During the night, about 100 more victims were crammed in, an impossible burden. The Olshan Jews had the dilemma of integrating them or perishing with them.
The Judenrat managed to handle these additional victims, and to provide workers for the Germans and the Polish authorities, with the condition that no sick person would be sent to work. The workers had to go where directed, to work as hard as possible. The Judenrat must carry out the orders exactly. They thought that the ‘beast’ would thus be restrained. The seizures on the street had indeed lessened, but then an additional penalty was inflicted. The Germans demanded that 200 youngsters down to age 12 be sent to work, and these were then sent to Zhezhmir, a concentration camp in Lithuania.
We know now that the German intent was to denigrate, torture, break the morale and destroy the Jews. Knowing this, there seemed no solution. Resisting was out of the question, against the heavily armed Germans, and there was nowhere to flee. There were no partisans yet in the forest. On the roads and towns, all sorts of bandits lurked, ready to kill and rob any Jews. Besides, any fugitive from the ghetto faced a more certain fate from hunger and cold, his family also was under threat of death, as was the whole community in the ghetto. The police forces always relished the Jewish burdens. No one wanted to endanger his family by fleeing the ghetto.
Looting of Jewish Possessions
Looting was also systematized. Instead of the police entering houses to steal, the Jews had to bring in their belongings themselves. Furthermore, all officials demanded that the Jews bring in at an appointed hour all soap, leather, clothing and any other valuable articles. There were no exceptions, and the penalty for noncompliance was death. All Jewish homes were emptied and poverty was universal. The Jews were terrified and confused. At the sight of any German vehicles, they thought they were doomed, for they had nothing left to give. To satisfy the German demands, the Judenrat purchased items from Christian dealers, to give to their persecutors.
Thanks to R'Khodesh's tactics, no mass slaughter occurred. His dedication helped the ghetto Jews, while the German beasts sowed death and destruction. He also remained in contact with the Catholic priest Khomski, one of the righteous few, who warned the Christians in his sermons in the cathedral not to participate in the persecution and violent acts against the Jews. The encouragement and support from R' Khodesh to the suffering Jews, strengthened their resolve and helped them to refrain from irresponsible behavior. A few months before the deportation of the Olshan Jews to the Oshmen ghetto, R' Khodesh and a number of the Olshan Jews were taken away to the Volozhin ghetto, and within two months they were all executed.
Saved From Olshan Slaughter For Disaster in Volozhin
At end of 1941, Olshan and a number of other towns in the White Russian sector were assigned to the Lithuanian area by the Germans. At that time the Olshan ghetto had supported over 100 victims from Lithuania and from Vilna who had survived the slaughter inflicted by the Letts in the small towns of Lithuania in the first days of the German occupation.. Among them were many wounded, who had crawled out of the graves of the mass shootings during the night, and fled to Olshan. Being in the White Russian sector, no mass slaughters had occurred yet in Olshan, as compared to Lithuania. The Olshan Jews had integrated the fugitives. In Olshan, there was no German commandant. The Civilian authority, with few exceptions, was exercised by the Polish officials of the area. At first, relatively, accommodations were not too difficult, though dozens of Jews had been killed. Suddenly the Olshaners and the refugees found that Olshan would no longer be a ‘Garden of Eden’ in White Russia, but would become a Lithuanian town.
Panicked by the prospect of falling into the hands of the Lithuanian murderers, the fugitives began to flee further into White Russia, where mass slaughters had not yet occurred. Panic also spread among the Olshaners who were also seeking to escape from the impending Lithuanian takeover. The Olshan Judenrat had considered various stratagems to salvage as many Jews as possible. As we know now, the moving of the Jews was part of the German extermination plan, to concentrate the Jews in one place in order to carry out a mass slaughter. So the German authority in Oshmen authorized the Judenrat, led by R' Khodesh, to move the refugees, along with 150 Olshaners to Volozhin, accompanied by White Russian police.
Two months later, in May 1942, a mass execution occurred in Volozhin, lasting three hours. Virtually all the Jews were killed, 810 survived. Thirty Jews reserved by the killers, along with the few survivors were forced to bury their own mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters in a mass grave in the Volozhin cemetery.
Some of the survivors eventually got back to Olshan. Those still living include Yitzchok Ziskand [in Israel], Michal Rudnik [in America]. Malech Dervatzki was killed in a town near Olshan. Aaron and Lusia Varanovski were killed on the way from Volozhin to Olshan. The Rebbetsin Deicha and her daughter Milye were tortured in Klage. Her daughter Hadassah, five years old was buried alive together with the Christians who were taking her home from Volozhin.
by Isaac Ziskind, recorded by S. Kaplan
In August 1941, the ghetto was founded in Volozhin. In about 50 houses resided about 3500 Jews, along with various other groups from Vishniev, Olshan, Oshmen and Vilna. On May 10, 1942 at 5 AM, the ghetto was surrounded by S.S. and police, who broke in and shot two Jewish police, Yochanon Klein and Isaac Nuresevitch, then shot many others. Then they drove the Jews into a smithy, where 800 people were jammed together tightly. The wailing of the children was indescribable. The S.S. kept shooting into this crowd to quiet them and wounded many. R' Khodesh urged the men to tear off the oven doors, or take stones, tear down the gates, attack the S.S., and flee. But the elder from the Volozhin Judenrat, Israel Lunin, said that they were still alive and they should not flee.
In the Volozhin Ghetto
The Fate of Reb Khodesh
On May 9, 1942, the Volozhin Jews who had been working outside the ghetto were brought back to the ghetto at midnight and surrounded by Germans, Letts and White Russians. They were warned not to flee. The Jews were panicked and started to hide in the melinas, shelters which had been prepared in the houses. At 4 AM, the drunken mob unleashed a barrage of gunfire on the Jews, and gathered them all together in a large shed, part of a smithy. Then the Jews were led in sections to the cemetery to be shot. Anyone too sick, old or weak was shot on the spot. All the streets on the way to the cemetery were strewn with corpses of men, women and children.
In one house where five families lived, a hiding place had been constructed under a wood pile, which was accessed by a ladder which could be pulled up and hidden. In this critical night, the Jews hid in this shelter, and among them was R' Khodesh, and the narrator of these events. At dawn, the house was stormed by the drunken mob, and they found no one. They emerged to seek the hidden Jews, they noticed the path which led to the wood pile. Two Germans put up a ladder and uncovered our hiding place, and forced the Jews to climb down, under threat of setting fire. I and two others held back, until another German climbed up and forced us out. However, I jumped on to a roof on the other side, then down to the ground and ran off, and the other two also jumped down. The Germans were shooting at us and I was wounded in the shoulder. After about 50 meters I felt faint, and noticed some women in a nearby house. I struggled in and asked for some water. The terrified women helped me to flee, and declared that the Aktion was only directed at men. Outside I noted a cellar door, so I hid inside, but didn't lock the door.
Not far from the cellar was the group of recaptured Jews, and they were being taken in groups to the cemetery. From my hiding place, I could see Wileiker, the district commissar, who directed the process of murdering the Jews. Among a group of Jews being marched off, I could clearly see the Olshan Rabbi, R' Khodesh with a bloody hand; he approached the commissar and asked him to spare his life. The commissar knew R' Khodesh well, he had had many dealings with him in confiscating valuable items including two kilograms of gold. He was unmoved, and sent him off with the group to be shot. Thirty men, including Beryl Kogan and Joshua Glik, along with a group of laborers who had worked in the smithy, were selected and told to bring along their wives and children. Joshua Glik, a boy, was joined by two women, a pharmacist from Podvrodzh, and a woman with a child from Volozhin. The woman with the child was taken away, and the pharmacist remained, to pair with Joshua.
By Sunday noon, the mass Aktion was finished. The mobs milling around dispersed. I could still hear shooting from other parts of the ghetto. The White Russian police hunted down the melinas to find any more hidden Jews. Boys accompanied the police to help search the houses and uncover the hiding places. Any Jews found were immediately shot down.
When it was dark, I left the cellar and slipped into a nearby house and hid in the basement, where I stayed until Monday. At dawn I ventured out, but heard the noise made by the White Russian police and their boy companions, who had been in the building. So I crawled back into hiding until Monday night, when I decided I had to find some house to replace my filthy clothes and also to get some dressing for my wounded shoulder which had been very painful. I heard some noise, several gunshots and a a call in Russian, Two Jews killed. As I later learned they were, Perski and his soninlaw, a brother of Zisl Perski of Olshan; they had been the ones who had escaped with me from the shelter. I went back into hiding. Tuesday morning I heard a voice at the top of the ladder into the basement; a child's voice shouted that there was nobody there. At noon I heard the two bodies being carried off. Occasional gunfire was audible. In the evening, I went up into the house and found a piece of bread, two baked potatoes, some horse radish, and also a sefer torah. I put the bread and potatoes in my bag, and with a flask of water returned to the basement. I didn't have the strength to dig into my hiding place, so just lay there. I wasn't able to swallow the bread and potatoes. I lay there exhausted for two more days. On Thursday i was unable to get up from the floor. The pain from my shoulder was excruciating. On Friday I dragged myself to the basement window and saw a familiar Jewish woman. I wanted to call her, but couldn't utter a word. With my last strength I knocked on the window, and suddenly I saw Michal Rudnik from Olshan. I was so excited, I fainted and lay on the ground unconscious. When I recovered, I heard Jewish voices, crept to the window and saw how the door from the house to the street had been boarded up. I shouted, Here is a Jew! Open the door! The boards were torn off and I was taken away to the house occupied by the thirty selected men. There I met Michal Rudnick and others who had survived from their shelters undetected.
Michal told me how he had survived. He was among those selected by the Germans to clean up the ghetto. They were ordered to collect all the hundreds of bodies now rotting in the streets and houses. Among the bodies, he found his parents, brother, sister and children. I asked if there was a doctor in the group and Michal Polaks operated on me with a sharp knife, removed the bullet from my shoulder and bandaged me. On Thursday, May 14, the Polish woman Dobrolovitch, from a town near Olshan, was sent by the Olshan Judenrat, to find what had happened in Volozhin. She said that everything in Olshan was the same and she took back a letter for the Judenrat.
On Saturday May 16, Michal and I decided to return to Olshan together with Ziske, from Volozhin. We left Volozhin late at night and by dawn were over the Zabrezher bridge, and all day Sunday we hid in the woods near Lasto. At night, after the peasants had left the cathedral, we sneaked through to the train station. I knew the peasants on the other side of the bridge. Nevertheless we avoided meeting any of the locals by using side trails, and we reached the Olshan ghetto by dawn.
by Gdalia Dudman
On August 30, 1942, all the Jews in the ghetto were told to stand next to their homes, with their luggage, to be taken to another ‘place’. Soon armed Germans went house to house and ordered everyone to assemble at the Bays Hamidrash. There they were ordered to lay face down on the ground, and threatened to shoot anyone who looked up. Then they took groups of 100 through the tower of the ghetto. The Germans ran alongside and beat the Jews on their heads with cudgels. The moaning and screaming increased, the weeping of the women and children rose to heaven. Later, they were transported by auto to speed things up. The trucks drove up to the Bays Hamidrash and the victims were forced to get in, and they drove through Krever Street.
When Zarak's building was packed with Jews, the Germans set it on fire. Anyone who tried to get out was shot. Dr. Padzelever was burned, standing at the window, with his face covered.
The Christians begged the Germans to spare Padzelever, the only doctor in the area, to no avail. After the building had burned, autos arrived packed with more Jews. They were herded into a field and killed by machine guns. The dead bodies were thrown into the fire. Bashke Podverezeki shouted, Brothers, save yourselves!, and she tried to flee, but was shot down. Many others also tried to flee, but the Germans gunned them all down. All of Krever Street was littered with bodies. Even after the war, remains of the victims could be found.
I had run off after getting out of the truck and zigzagged through the alleys, then jumped into a ditch and hid. I could see the mounted police chasing down the Jews, shooting them. All night Saturday until Sunday, the town of Vishniev was patrolled by Polish police. On August 30, 1942, the Germans finished their slaughter. They had murdered all the Jews in Vishniev. I decided to flee into the forest, together with any survivors from Vishniev, to organize a brigade of partisans, to procure weapons and take revenge on the peasants who had helped the Germans to kill the Jews. Using a Christian friend, I had sent a letter to Olshan to Shepsl Abramovitch, telling of the disaster and of how many Jews remained alive. I also wrote to the Oshmen ghetto, to Leib Bakin and Poliak Slodunski who helped to mobilize 31 persons in the ghetto, including Dr. Dolinski from Olshan, attorney Mazurek from Warsaw, Max Potashnik from Olshan and his wife Anna, Yosel Potashnik from Volozhin, Rabinovitch and others.
We should also note here the Christians who helped us during these times. Albert, Yulia and Stefan Slodunski helped us to flee on the day of the slaughter. Selevon, his wife and daughter from Dolknievitch took us in like their own children. Selevon gave me a rifle and a revolver, and we fled into the forest. With a weapon, it was easier to get food and more guns for six of our men. Our armed partisan group was based near Vishniev and the train stations in Bogdanov and Vaigon, and we revenged ourselves on the local peasants who knew all about the fates of the Vishniev Jews.
Rabbi Feldman was a distinguished Torah scholar, the soninlaw of Kushe Ziskand of Olshan. Often Reb Feldman conducted a Saturday afternoon Drash which was extremely popular. A few years before WWII, Reb Feldman became the much loved rabbi in the town of Kurenitz.
He became a victim of the German bestial tortures, and this history was written by Feige Alperovitz in The Kurenitz Megila, in Hebrew.
On the False Document Period
In Olshan a few Jews were hidden under false documents, by Christian neighbors. Only one of these survived, Velvel Tchepelunski. The others were killed by those same neighbors, or betrayed to their murderers.
In spring 1943, when the Olshan ghetto was liquidated, Velvel Tchepelunski fled, to a Christian friend in the town of Akolitsa, 6 km away. He stayed with an acquaintance Solatize from Moskutch. When the Germans seemed to be on his trail, he got away in time and at night wandered through the towns of his Christian neighbors, but found no refuge. He quickly realized that he must beware of these neighbors no less than the Germans. Hungry and cold, he trod through fields and woods, staying in a different place every night, in fear of death. Pursued by the Germans and without any friends, he wondered why he fled the ghetto and didn't stay with the rest of the Jews, but now there was no ghetto.
On a frosty night in winter 1944, Velvel, sick, discouraged and exhausted, dragged himself to the supervisor of his old employer Solatize, and knocked on the door. He was admitted to the house, not knowing that it was being watched by the Germans, and was put in the warm stable with the cows. At dawn, when Joseph Solatize, as usual, went to feed his cows, he noticed a group of Germans heading toward his farm. He had hidden Velvel in a pile of straw, and he wheeled his wagon into the barn, covering him with more straw. He opened wide the gate to his barn and returned to his cows. Shortly the Germans arrived and he came out to meet them. To the question of whether Solatize lived there, he directed them to another farm house 0.5 km away, where there also lived a Solatize. The Germans searched the premises thoroughly, but found nothing besides some hidden bacon. Content with their find, the Germans returned, searched the open barn where Velvel was hidden, then left. And that's how Velvel Tchepelunski was saved.
The Good Neighbor Promised Bread and Brought Death Instead
In winter 1943, while the Oshmen ghetto was being liquidated, Bentsch Gernovitch of Olshan, together with his wife and 6 year old daughter fled from the Zhezhmir camp, to a Christian neighbor Lutkovski in the Kurovschtshiner forest, 2 km from Olshan.. They weren't able to stay there, so had to wander in the woods. All of the peasants in the area were determined antisemites, who were actively engaged every night in killing Jews and Soviet prisoners who had been working for the peasants. They were awakened by a neighbor from Olshan, a Christian Pinkovski , who came seeking his pack that he had left by the fire while roasting a pig. Bentsch was glad to see him, because he was supposed to bring him some bread and other things that they had left with his neighbor before leaving the Oshmen ghetto. Instead of bread, some police rushed in and led Bentsch and his family to the police station, and a few days later they were all shot.
Pinkovski accepted his prize, awarded for capturing Jews: several kilos of sugar and soap.
by Hana LevTcherniovski
When the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, the Olshan youths fled deeper into Russia, my brother Velvel among them. But he returned soon, all the roads were blocked and the Germans were everywhere. I ran away to a Christian neighbor, and left our possessions with them, hoping that they would keep them for us. They welcomed us and promised to hide us. When the Germans created a ghetto in Olshan, closely guarded, the goyim became quite fearful about hiding Jews.
We found a place in a field used for planting flax, to hide my brother. When I was able to leave the ghetto, I brought him some food. After things got quieter, he would come home at night and sleep in our house. In the middle of the night, someone pounded on our door. Velvel jumped out through the window. Two White Russians and some Germans had come to search our house. They looked everywhere Is this your entire family? asked the policeman where is your brother?. I answered, There's a war on, I don't know where he is. A few weeks later after things were quiet again, Velvel returned to sleep at home again, but again there was a knock on the door.
Where is your brother?. He had a revolver with him. But Velvel had again escaped to the forest. The police sought Velvel almost every night. It was decided that he should go to Volozhin; we didn't want the whole family to go. Reb Khodesh and the Dolinski family advised that Velvel should go and save himself. I went to Volozhin with himmaybe I could help save him again. It was very confused and chaotic on the road. I asked if we could go together with Peshke and his whole family.
After arriving in Volozhin, we all reported to the authority, and were all given badges, to work outside the ghetto. I didn't want to stay in Volozhin, so I wrote home. Kole Pinkovski from Castle Street came after me. To my room also came Reb Khodesh and other Olshaners who asked me to send them news when I reached home. And so I set off.
After a few km, I said to Kole,You know, if anyone asks who I am, you shouldn't say that I'm Jewish, just say that you are bringing your wife home from the hospital. If you tell them I'm Jewish, we'll both be shot. We kept on, but it wasn't long before we were stopped by the police and were told to drive back to the police station. What could I do? I had enough money. I told Kole, Tell them I am sick, the children are waiting for us. I myself asked them to let us go. I gave them money, which they reluctantly accepted. We were stopped again by the police. I started weeping and gave them my last money, and we were able to drive on.
I knocked on the door, and Feigele cried, Mama, our Khanke is here! We all wept for joy.
In just a few minutes, the Lithuanian and White Russian police arrived, arrested me to take me to the police station. On the way, the Litvak left, so I said to the Russian, What good would it do you if I am killed? If I live, I could give you gifts, money, other things. The policeman said, Go home to your sick mother, but don't sleep at your home. I ran off immediately, then sent a message for Velvel to come home. But he had already left Volozhin. And so I was separated forever from my dear brother. Broken, sick, ailing, we were still alive.
by Haya KzuraKatz
After liquidating all the smaller ghettos, the Germans gathered the remaining Jews still able to work in Oshmen. It was very crowded this concentration of the Jews was part of the German plan for the Final Solution, to kill all of us.
Our enemies made a passage in the streets out of the concealed ditches dug by the Jews trying to hide. My mother fell into one of these ditches. They dragged out 400 and took them from Oshmen to Zhelanke, 67 km from Oshmen, held them overnight in a barn. At dawn, they shot them all and threw their bodies into a common grave.
When we came to Zhelanke after the war, in the place where the mass execution had taken place, we found clothing fragments. The mass grave was overgrown with grass. The grave was instantly noted, because the grass on top had a brighter color. The peasants of the area told us that the Latvians, under command of the Germans had stripped the victims before shooting them.
The living survivors installed a memorial stone, but we don't know if it's still there, none of us stayed there. When I visited Zhezhmir, I learned of my mother's death. My little 11 year old sister remained in Oshmen where she was found by some friends who took care of her. After the liquidation of the Oshmen ghetto, my sister joined me in Zhezhmir. We both wandered through the various murder camps, where the grisly daily scenes of murder and destruction were played out.
Like some nightmare of the Hitler murders, we had survived to see the stigmata of our murderers. Today my sister is a doctor, working in Israel in Bar Shive.
by Pesakh Gershenovitch
June 24, 1941, in Olshan, there were Jews from Vilna and Oshmen, fleeing the Germans. Panicked, near the PolishRussian border, they stopped to take a few breaths then ran on, hoping to get to Russia sooner. Panic ruled in Olshan, nobody knew what to do, whether to abandon one's own little corner to become homeless, or to stay and see their grim destiny. Panic increased still more when the Soviet soldiers and civic officials, who had been in Olshan for two years, fled back to Russia with their families.
Terrified I decided to go with my nephew Zelig Weiner to Russia. I followed quickly with my mother, sister and children. With us were Avrohom Koslovski, his family, BerylLeib Plotkin, Israel Berkman, Velvel Tchernovski, Teibel Korbonovitch, Moshe Ragovin, Moshe Gurvitch, Isaac and Zelda Soleducha, Moshe and Ester Koslovski, Israel Miilner and Avrohom Peibushak. We were in a procession of people from Vishniev, Volozhin, and Rokov, a border town. The road was flooded with people on foot, in cars and trucks, wagons
The first day, one could still travel by day. Here and there, we had to stop because of discarded bombs. The train station was in flames, and Vishniev was like a cemetery. People were hiding in their houses. In Volozhin, the upper part of town had been bombed, dark clouds of smoke coming from the chimneys. Going on, we traveled at night and hid in the woods in the day. German planes flew low overhead sowing death and destruction. The road was filled with thousands of fugitives. On the way to Rakov we met some more Olshaners: Meyer Meltzer, Dora Soleducha, Reuben Liond, Nachum and Miriam Schneider, Elihu Koslovski, Aaron Voronovski. At the border, the Soviet guards wouldn't let us in, waiting for their orders. They told us to wait until morning, and ignored our pleas. We returned to Rakov, where the Jews were confused, terrified and helpless. In the morning we returned to the border; the guards were gone.
The road to Minsk and the adjacent fields were littered with soldiers and frightened confused civilians. Some turned back, hearing of German parachutists and motorcycles. We could see clearly the flames in Minsk. We assumed that the Germans were in Minsk already, so we decided to return to Olshan. In Haradak, we got the news that the Germans had driven all the Jews into the marketplace, and abused them all, young and old. Near Volozhin, we were halted by a German patrol, who searched us for weapons, then let us go. From Volozhin, we followed the trail to Zavrezia.
Near Olshan, we were attacked by a band of the town hooligans. who beat us mercilessly. At dawn we arrived in Olshan, beaten and weary. Someone informed the PolishNazi police that Rogovin was in Zabrezia, so three cops drove off to Zabrezia to bring him back in ropes to Olshan under arrest. It cost Reb Khodesh a lot of trouble and money to get this 17 year old boy released back to his home in Olshan.
In March 1942, the Rogovin family, including Mottel, Rachel, Moshe and Pesach, and others traveled from Olshan to Volozhin, to the killing fields of May 1942. Among the murdered Jews of Olshan and Volozhin were four men from their family. Their only daughter Chaya survived, and lives in Russia. Another report relates that Moshe Rogovin, in a fight with a Nazi murderer, tore his gun away and tried to escape, but was shot .
The Tragic Death of the Pharmacist Abramovitch, the First Victim in Olshan
In the first bloody months of Nazi rule in Olshan, the following Jews were arrested: Bruch Abramovitch, Jacob Soloducha, Velvel Liond, Joseph Koslovski, ChaimLeib Chernovski, Avrohom Koslovski, and Zelig Weiner. They were all taken to Oshmen and all freed except for Bruch Abramovitch, who was thrown into jail. Isaac and Shmuel Koslovski were charged with involvement in the killing of an official, Rotschke in the town of Trov, when the Soviets were in power. They were alleged to have been angry at him because he had disrupted the Koslovski house during his service in Olshan.
These arrests elicited much concern in the Olshan community and the Judenrat, who managed to ransom the prisoners with 6 ounces of gold. Only Bruch Abramovitch remained in prison, because he had been accused by the local Poles of being an active communist. Later, Shepsel Kaplan said that he had not been a communist, but had been active in Olshan institutions, especially in the Cooperative Bank. During the Soviet period, Bruch had given a talk about cooperatives. His Jewish enemies, who Bruch had opposed during the Polish period got revenge when the Germans took over, and accused Abramovitch of serving the Soviets. And that's why he was shot in the first month of German rule.
Trapped in a Gypsy Aktion
In July 1941, the boy Leib Koslovski, from Oshmen Street, ventured out, to get some bread, and to collect a debt from a Christian. He encountered a German Aktion, aimed at murdering the gypsies, then in Olshan. The Germans rounded up all the gypsies, including the Jewish boy, and killed them all.
Nazis Force Jews to Drag Two Soviet Tanks
Among the German edicts, an order was given to line up the Jews like horses, to haul two shattered Soviet tanks, standing by Schloss Street. The order was carried out by our ‘good’ neighbors, the White Russians, who willingly served the Germans in managing Olshan. The tanks had to be dragged to Trov, 12 km distant. How were they going to do this? They had no option. All Olshaners were put to work, everyone who could move. Beryl Kanon had brought very heavy boards and the creaking tanks were dragged out of Castle Street, by extreme effort. Sweat poured down our exhausted bodies. Our 'good' neighbors, Christians, stood on the street with folded arms faintly smiling, watching the enslaved Jews.
In fear of death we slaved away, bearing heavy loads for five km. up and down hill. I still can't comprehend where we got the strength to trudge and trudge, driven by fear. Time stood still, what would happen to us? Petrushevich, the German taskmaster, shouted, Faster! Faster! With bowed head and aching legs we labored without relief. When we delivered the tanks to Trov, we hoped for some rest. We knew that the Germans usually repaid our labor by beating us, but this time it didn't happen and we were overjoyed. We embraced and were happy that we would get home without being beaten. Near Olshan, at the bridge from Aaron Schneider's water mill, we were met by our family and friends, who had been terrified by our ordeal.
by Shepsl Kaplan
In 1942, 600 Jews, mostly young healthy young men and women from Olshan, Kreve, Smorgen and other towns were brought to Zhezhmir, near Kovne, to build the highway from Kovne to Vilna. Another group, mostly from Oshmen, worked on the same road from Vevye to Miligan near Vilna. In the synagogue and the nearby cinema, the Germans had formerly kept Soviet prisoners of war. Because of the filth and the minimal rotten food, mostly potato peels, a typhus epidemic broke out. Many died, including Peretz Tchepelinski, Reuben Sogalovitch, Leib Koslovski and others from Olshan. Against great odds, the Jewish doctor Gordonovitch, his medic Anolik and his wife, Matilda, isolated the ill and saved them from the SS camp director. Thus the camp was salvaged from the threat of total destruction..
In the spring of 1943, after the liquidation of the last ghettos around Vilna, 1000 more Jews, mostly from Oshmen, were crammed into Zhezhmir. Many of these were children, and they were stuffed into the same two houses where the typhus epidemic was raging. The 'Death Squad' led by the camp director, Shtoltzman, was ruthless, but the senior Jews weren't treated so badly. Every week several of them were driven in a truck to bring back products from their homes. They also carried letters and greetings for all.
There was the case of a 14 year old girl, who developed appendicitis in 1942, and thanks to the intervention of Reuben Segalovitch and Yivdal Rudnik, she was sent back to Olshan. This news was unbelievable. It was so much likelier that she would have been deported like the 23 Jews sent off in a truck to a field 3 km distant, where they were massacred.
Forced by the ‘Death Squad’ to work faster to finish the highway, the situation was hellish. Among the merciless sadistic slave drivers, stood out Georgi, who had a criminal past that he bragged about. At the smallest mistake, he would exact ferocious punishment. Usually this would happen to Jews who had never held a shovel in their hands. Like an aroused wild beast, he'd beat the Jews with his stick and kick them. The more he beat them, the angrier he got. None of his victims escaped his beatings.
Summer 1943, the work on the road was finished, and the Death Squad moved 300 men to Pskov, in occupied Russia. The remaining Jews were destined for execution since they were now useless. The bewildered Jews had maintained contact with the Kovno Judenrat, to whom some letters had been sent beseeching help to escape the fate of the camps in Oshmen, Kovno and Ponor. This time the Kovno Judenrat appealed to the regional commander to allow the able bodied to transfer to the Kovno ghetto.
One day the Jewish officials of the Kovno ghetto arrived together with the leader of the German work force. 800 men, women and children were transferred to the Kovno ghetto in June 1943. They were welcomed warmly by the Kovno ghetto administrator. A number of the new arrivals were quartered in the cinema ‘Latinika’. But soon the administrators began to treat the Zhelzhiners as secondclass and assign them to the worst places and hardest labor in the ghettos. Because of this, the Zhelzhiners volunteered to provide 300 men to work in the Kashidor camp.
The Leaders of the Kashidor Camp
The work in Kashidor was difficult and exhausting. It consisted of digging ditches, loading and unloading trucks, chopping down forests. In four months, there were five camp administrators, including Corporal Mutz and pay master Shtieglitz. Their relations with 350 Jews were not bad, they breathed more freely. Stieglitz and Mutz allowed the Jews to enter town to get supplies for the camp. They also allowed the train crew to deliver and unload potatoes and other products in the camp. The work was controlled and assigned by the military administration. For fear of being sent to the front, if the camp had been liquidated and the Jews deported, the camp's military officials consistently praised the Jews to their superiors in Kovno, asserting that they were diligent and performed useful work.
Each of the five camp directors in Kashidor had a different relationship with the Jews. The first, Sergeant Sharke, was a troubled man, who often flew into a demented rage. When he ordered an assembly, it was suspected that everyone was to be taken to be gassed, causing a general panic. When he heard about this rumor, he visited every barrack, he reassured everyone, swearing on his life that he had personally ordered that the Jews would not be harmed. Apprehensively, the Jews went into the baths, and in fact came out washed and clean. The German guards photographed Stieglitz with a Jewish girl on his lap, and a report of this was sent to the Jews of the camp. Stieglitz was transferred to the Front, and was succeeded by Sergeant Mutz.
Mutz used to go to the town to procure supplies. Wherever possible, he allowed the camp Judenrat to handle their affairs. Mutz was also sent to the Front. A day before he left, he was advised of the upcoming children's ‘Aktion’. He selected the 12 year old Aaron Kaplan and saved him from death. Mutz's successor Sergeant Kashin, a professional soldier, was told of the impending children's Aktion. On the third day of the order, Kashin summoned the Judenrat and ordered them to send the Jews out to work.
He declared,I have believed, then not believed in the gruesomeness of the Germans against adult Jews. Now I have seen the truth. Our German culture has been degraded by the war against these young children. We have already lost the war. I am ashamed to be a German.
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