by Aharon Shuster
My Survival in Olshan and in the German Extermination Camps
When the Germans took Olshan, they immediately loaded 200 Jews into a truck for a labor detail. We assumed that the captives would never return. But in fact, when they all returned in the evening, we rejoiced as if they had been gone for years. Then in 1942, the Germans ordered 150 Jews to work in Zhezhmir. Having heard of the mass killings, the Jews didn't want to go, but they had no choice for they and their families were threatened with death. On a beautiful sunny spring day, guarded by police like criminals, we went on foot to Kreve, joined by the Jews from that ghetto, and we were marched to the Smorgen ghetto for a few days. Then we were taken to the border, where we were taken over by the White Russian police and the German ‘Death’ squad. Some of us imagined that we were going to do some labor. We were taken to the Lithuanian train station in Kashindor, then driven to Zhezhmir.
There the Christian inhabitants were amazed to see us, for they assumed that there were no more Jews in the area since the Germans came; all the Jews had been murdered in the first weeks of the German attack. The trucks stopped in front of the shul, surrounded by a high barbed wire fence. Inside, we were lined up and counted, then directed to go to sleep. We were awakened early by the bell, assembled outside and put to work, guarded by armed Germans and Latvians. We worked on building a highway and a rail bed, to transport various construction materials, and to facilitate troop movements back and forth. After 34 months, the camp director sent a truck to Olshan to find some additional food to feed the slave workers. The truck returned with the heartbreaking news that the Olshan ghetto had been liquidated, that the last Jews had been taken to the Oshmen ghetto, along with other ghettos, and had all been killed, including my mother Rachel. The terrible news horrified everyone.
The construction work ended by winter and we then labored in the forest. At dawn we washed our hands and face with snow. At night halfnaked, we sat on stools near burning stoves and washed the lice out of our clothes. Typhus broke out, the camp was totally sanitized, but many died including Olshaners Segalovitch, Koslovski, Gurevitch and others. In the summer came new groups of deportees from the shtetls. Jews who had family in the camps were able to visit there. Thus the remnants of the Olshan ghetto, who had been saved in Ashmen, came to Zhezhmir. And so I was reunited with my father.
The Kovne Judenrat Ghetto Receives the Camp Survivors who are Later Murdered by the Germans
The Kovne Judenrat did all it could to take in the remaining Jews, though many of them were killed after their slave labor was done. One Sunday in Fall 1943 trucks arrived in the camp and took almost everyone away to Kovne, leaving behind a pile of all their belongings. That Sunday, I had not been in the camp. With my brother Elia we had sneaked into the town to barter for some food. When we returned at night we were dismayed to learn of what had happened. We had been separated from our father, and decided to seek some way to get to the Kovne ghetto. The camp director announced that the 140 remaining Jews were absolutely forbidden to leave the camp.
In the morning trucks arrived to pick up the leftover belongings. I managed to tag along so was taken to Kovne. However the camp director noted my absence and demanded that I be sent back, which meant certain death. Thanks to the work leader of the Kovne Judenrat, Rabinovitch, I was sentenced instead to 15 days confinement.
So I was separated from my brother, who later died in Panor. While I was under arrest, most of the Zhezhmir group moved to Kashindor, and I was left in Kovne with my father until October 1943. Then the ghetto was surrounded; we were all packed into heavy trucks guarded by SS men and militia. As soon as the trucks halted, our enemies attacked us like wild animals, throwing everybody out on the ground. Mothers and children were separated, as were men from women and older people.
After the segregations we were packed back into the trains, the windows closed with barbed wire. That evening the train started to move, with armed guards on top. At every station they broke into the cars to beat the victims and confiscate their valuables.
Enslaved Jews Build a Secret Military Rail Line
On the sixth day at dawn we arrived in a desolate location. We were ordered to get out, and we thought this would be our last stop. Several youngsters started to run away, but were shot down. Looking at the bodies, the SS commander shouted, Whoever tries to help these will suffer the same fate.
In groups of four, each holding the other's hands, under heavy guard, we marched past a swampy area with no signs of life. After several hours we came to a flat field where several small barracks stood, surrounded by high barbed wire. This was our new ‘home’, the first concentration camp, Ivore, in Estonia. We were assigned 40 men to a barrack. Later we learned that this area was called the Estonian Siberia by the oppressed and miserable populace.
We were brought here to build a secret military railroad to connect this area with imports from Finland. Next day we worked in the swamp kneedeep, to smooth the surface with sand and rocks, brought in from the adjacent train station. After a 12 hour day we returned to camp, and had to respond to repeated rollcalls. After all this labor, we collapsed in the barracks exhausted, lying on the ground crushed together. After several months, many starving prisoners had died of the common diseases, typhus and dysentery, There was no medical treatment. If an inmate became ill for a few days, an SS man would come and give him an injection, putting him to death immediately.
Suffering and Death in the Slave Camps of Estonia
In January 1944, when the Russians started their Leningrad offensive, the camp was evacuated to the Estonian town of Kivaili, which had two camps, 1 and 2. In Estonia there were 23 concentration camps with Jews from various European locations. In Kivaili the inmates worked in the forest or in factories producing fuel.
I will always remember the road from Ivore to Kivaili, which straggled along the Finnish inlet. It was winter in deep snow, and we could barely move our feet. Some fell and remained in the snow. The guards collected the living bodies and threw them into the sea.
In spring 1944, the Germans liquidated all the Estonian camps by murdering the incapacitated prisoners, and evacuating the ablebodied ones elsewhere. My father and I were sent to the remaining concentration camp, Klage, about 50 km. from the Estonian capital of Talinn. Klage was located at a major junction and train line, surrounded by a forest and a huge thicket, where the previous Russian inhabitants had erected several 45 story buildings. 1500 Jews were kept in one of these structures, surrounded by a double fence of barbed wire. Klage had been established several years before by the Germans, and practically all of the original inhabitants had died of starvation and hard labor.
The majority of the prisoners were from Vilna and Kovne. From Olshan were Rebetzin Daicha , her daughter Milye, my sister BesShiva, her daughter Lahla, our father Mordechai, Shlomo Koslovski, , his wife Hanye, Ester Ziskind, Nachmia Meltzer, and ChaimYosef Leibman and his wife.
The main project, on which we worked from 6 AM to 6 PM, involved making cement, then pouring it into various forms. A group also worked in the forest. The labor was constant, any pause was punished by beating on bare backs. Executions were carried out at a special hillock, where the victim was laid down. On both sides the SS men held whips with multiple lead points. Laughing wildly, they indulged their animal instincts by drawing blood. The victim had to count the blows, and if he missed one, they started all over again. After 1525 strokes, very rarely did anyone survive. Afterwards, a doctor checked to see if anyone was still alive. The dead corpses were cremated in a nearby oven.
Once a group of returning workers picked up a few potatoes from a field. They were observed by the guards, who opened fire, killing a third of them. The rest of the group had to carry their bodies back to the camp for cremation.
Shooting the Young and Capable Jews, who had to prepare the Firewood for their Cremation
On September 19, 1944, the labor force was assembled ready to go to work, but then everyone was called out, and we were surrounded by a heavy SS detachment. It was announced that because the war front is changing, the camp must be evacuated for security reasons, and we were going to Germany. A transport would fill the empty wagons with wood and then a selection of men would be taken to the port of Kunda, on the gulf of Finland.
The director chose 300 of the strong younger men, who were then driven out of the camp under a heavy guard. Each one carried a load of wood on his back. Our mood was improved, as we believed the director's words. But that didn't last long when we heard a volley of machinegun fire. The wailing among those still in the camp was mingled with the screams of the victims. It became clear that we were destined to be massacred.
We later learned that the wood carried by the 300 victims was used to create a fire which consumed the 300 bodies, leaving no evidence behind. When the SS detachment returned, they grouped the remaining Jews in groups of 50, and executed them.
So that's what these bestial barbarians did all day, accompanied by continuous screaming of the victims, from afternoon to night on the main plaza. In one corner remained a group of 200 beaten and hopeless men including me and my father. One evening, the guards were distracted for the moment, and had gathered at the camp gate. One of our group, waiting to be killed, suddenly shouted, A little life is still good and he started running for the exit, and then the others also started running. There was great tumult and milling around near the gate. The Germans opened fire, and in the confusion, I was separated from my father, and was swept away in the crowd.
Meeting My Husband in a Camp in Estonia
The train was in Riga for the day, but all the camps were too full, so it was sent on to Estonia. We were herded on foot from the train to Eivora, where I found my husband BruchShmuel, and other Olshaners, Leibe Gilyes, Hinde Korbanovitch, BasSheva (Benjamin's wife), Mordechai Natas and Shmuel Trobski. My husband approached me, and was beaten as punishment. We were together for several months, along with my nephew Leibe. We even worked in the same forest, but then my husband and nephew were sent to Echeda camp, also in Estonia. Leibe was killed there when he developed a foot ailment. A little later, my husband became ill and was murdered.
The Germans brought the Jews to Aveda from all the nearby camps, in order to murder thousands of them. Then one morning 100 women were assembled, including me. We were kept outside all day in the bitter frost. then we were taken to another camp, Kiveili #1, and things were a little better there. We were given food and cots to sleep on. Shortly after, 400 men were brought in from the liquidated Vilna ghetto. Among them: my nephew Hershel Golias. His four children were sent to the left, i.e. to death.
I was in Kaveili camp for several months, where things were a little better. But then, with several hundred other women we were sent to Stuthof, which was really hellish. We were crowded into barracks where the doors and windows were kept open despite the freezing cold and our halfnaked state. It all seemed quite hopeless. We weren't allowed to speak one word. If the guard heard anyone speak, he would immediately pour cold water on her head. As we were packed together the water would immediately freeze our skins together and it was almost impossible to tear the skins apart. People died like flies. I was in this bitterly inhumane place for three weeks. In another selection of 300 healthy young women I was sent to Camp Rusalek, to experience new misery and pain.
by Rivka DavidsonSegalovich
Every day at 3 AM we were forced to walk 3 km. to a trolley line, which carried us to Danzig. There we labored to build a train track, rails and crossties. We unloaded stones and did other heavy labor. And that's how these exhausted women built a railway. It was a bitterly cold winter. The trail to the labor site was slippery and we wore heavy wooden shoes. Here too we were tormented by the deliberate poor fitting of the shoes. Small feet got large shoes, and large feet got the smaller ones. And above all we were hungry and almost naked. To survive such a day, meant to return with bloody feet. We didn't even have a piece of rag to bind our wounds. Every month , the weaker ones were sent off to Stuthof for execution, and replaced by younger healthier women.
Only a few of the original 300 survived these terrible conditions. The tiniest infractions were punished by death. Even a piece of string could be a fatal problem. Near our work place there a few towns. When we had a halfhour rest period, we'd sneak into a home to seek a little bread a potato, or a noodle. Anyone caught going into town paid with her life. First she would be obliged to kneel all night in the frost outside, and then be sent to Stuthof for execution.
Once I was on the verge of such an outcome. We were working close to a house owned by one of the rail officials, and some of the girls would sneak in to get some food, when they found that the lady of the house was generous. So I decided to test my luck to try to get some yarn to repair my cloak, which wouldn't stay on me at work because it had only one button. Instead of yarn, one of the children brought me a torn old jacket. My joy was shortlived. When I returned to the barrack, the supervisor ordered everyone to exit, one by one, for inspection. I was taken aside and interrogated as if I had committed a major crime, punishable by being shot. A transport was scheduled for morning to Shtuthof, and I was to be sent. But I was saved by a Kovne lady, Sarah.
Sarah had a special assignment; she brewed coffee for the supervisor. She had three daughters, pretty girls, who worked as ‘blitzgirls’, i.e. prostitutes for the SS men in their quarters. Thanks to Sarah that I am alive today. The supervisor decided not to report me to the camp director. All the others caught that day were sent off to Shtuthof. For my crime I was to be punished by a public lashing. Again Sarah had my sentence reduced to five lashes.
Bestial Assassinations of Jewish Inmates Just Before the German Collapse
When we finished our work on the train track, we had no more assigned work. The Germans were preoccupied and realized that their end was near. They gathered all the young healthy women, including me, and crowded us into a large beautiful house, abandoned by the German officers. We stayed there a few weeks and then were moved to an open field for a few days without food or water. For the next week we were driven on foot through fields and forests. It was midwinter and freezing cold as we trudged through deep snow in our wooden shoes, which clung to the snow. If anyone stopped to get the snow off the shoes, she was shot on the spot. Likewise, if one tried to take a bit of snow for drinking water. The road was strewn with dead bodies of those perishing from hunger or being shot.
The last night before liberation, we were driven into a large dark barn, where we stumbled around over irregular piles. Only at dawn could we see the horrible sight of the corpses piled up behind the locked gate. Six weeks before, 1200 women had been brought here, stricken with dysentery, typhus and starvation, and only 50 had survived.
We wanted to get out of this barn, and saw that there were no guards. They had all fled, leaving the barn locked. We pried up a few boards, and a few of us were able to get out. We saw some houses in a little town. A few of us checked them, and soon came running back, joyously carrying bread for all given them by the Russian soldiers. The barn was unlocked. We all celebrated our recovery from death into a future life. The Russians carried out any remaining women, then, after burying the corpses, burned down the barn.
After four years of inhuman awful slave labor, suffering in the ghettos and concentration camps, we had seen the end of the Hitler era, and we were free.
by Henye Tchepelinski
The Tchepelinski family [listed] was separated at first, then reunited in the Zhezhmir ghetto. My father died before the war. Prior to the liquidation of the Oshmen ghetto, my brother Velvel ran off and hid among the peasants. The rest of us, including my husband Pesakh, my mother, me and my child, were sent to the Kovne ghetto. We were assembled, beaten, and my husband and I were herded into a sealed truck, while my mother and child were sent off, never to be seen again. Along with the corpses of those who died on the way we arrived in the port of Kunda, Estonia. Men and women were sent to separate camps, to start our wretched paths.
The victims from various ghettos were set to work in a factory with a special project. The camp supervisor, Adolph Klee, tormented us, especially the men, by waking us in the middle of the night, to assemble in the yard stark naked, to sing until rollcall at dawn.
One day, the SS came, divided the group, right to left, determining who would die. The camp had to be liquidated and we all tried frantically to be allowed to live. The camp was chained shut, and no one was allowed to go to work. However, my partner Lipke and I, as washerwomen, were let out by the guards, and we fled. We didn't know where to go, the woods and the surrounding area were foreign to us. It was harvest time and we hid in a corn field. I
At night the guards were looking for us, we could hear them shooting. We arose at dawn, took off our tags and sought some food. We knew a little Estonian, and I was acquainted with a peasant who had agreed to hide us. When we arrived at his house, we were met by the SS camp commander and the guards, who had been alerted and our lives were in their hands. They did not shoot us. In fact, as we learned later, we were actually caught by chance. The camp was to be liquidated, but the young SS man had a fiancée and had gone with her to be married, and had encountered us unexpectedly. Our hands were bound and we were led through the streets of the capital, Talinn, back to the camp. The camp director just wanted to know where his laundresses had gone, and we told him we were seeking food. That night, at rollcall, he had to decide on our punishment. He decided that our heads would be shaved, like the men.
So we were transported along with thousands of women in a ship to Stuthof. Among the men on the ship, my husband Pesach Rabinovitch died en route. In Shtuthof were many Olshaners. We were herded into a house and stripped of all our belongings, left naked as newborns and given prison uniforms. My number was 69858.
Our brigade consisted of 11 women ; we stole beets and potatoes from the field to survive. Our straw was infested with lice. I became friends with a woman from Olshan, Rivel Segalovitch. A few nights before liberation she supported me when I thought I would die of starvation, and in fact we were soon freed in Danzig in 1945.
by R. AbramovitchShkop
The last step in the fate of several hundred Vilna Jews was the HKF camp [Heeres Energy Co], which employed the ghetto Jews in refurbishing used cars and other transport vehicles. Just before liquidating the Vilna ghetto, in September 1943, the HKF negotiated with the Gestapo, to move the Jews and their families into a separate camp, designated as the Cheap Houses, on Suvotch Street. Mayer Flage, the supervisor of HKF told us that we would work only for the HKF, which belonged to the Gestapo. Our boss would be Ernest WeisAlen, a coldblooded murderer.
Internally, the camp was directed by a Jew, Kolish and his brotherinlaw Lalke Gurevitch, as well as Jewish police. We were not under guard, but there was a high fence reinforced by several rows of barbed wire. But this was inadequate for the SS, who utilized several Jewish spies. One of these traitors, Niki Drazin, transmitted to the Gestapo daily reports of all the activities in the camp. I can still see before me his ugly figure in a long brown leather coat. However his fate was the same as all the others who were betrayed by him.
About half the men, including my husband Lave Shkop, were taken to another camp, Pantzerke. The rest of us worked at various tasksupholstery, locks, electrical devices, cabinetry, etc. The women worked in the ‘tailor room’, repairing uniforms, direct from the front. Three or four families lived in a small room. While I worked at the uniform repair, my friend Esther Woloch took care of my two year old son.
To inform us about the consequences of disobedience, we were called out the first week after arrival and assembled, to witness in public the hanging of a man and woman, who had been hiding outside the camp. Their 10 year old daughter was made to witness this horrid spectacle.
Ernest Weis the murderer used to visit often. After every visit he selected 2030 persons to send to Panor to satisfy his thirst for Jewish blood. We knew that our days would last only as long as we were useful. In early 1944, Pantzerke was liquidated and the men were brought back to camp. The end was approaching faster than we expected. At dawn March 27, 1944, the Gestapo surrounded the camp, and tore away from us our dear innocent children, including my 2 1/2 year old son Baruchl, who was named after my dearly loved uncle Baruch Abramovitch, the first victim of the Germans in Olshan.
While we awaited further events, we started to build hideouts. We discussed weapons, tunnels under the camp, but the possibilities were slim and the time was short. In June 1944, when the Russians retook Minsk, we were surrounded one morning by the SS, armed with machine guns, and it seemed that this would be the end. Everyone panicked, and people ran everywhere like frightened mice, trying to find a rumored secret exit, to no avail. My husband's friend, a policeman from Oshmen, had promised to help save us but he backed out at the last moment at midnight. But Lova didn't give up. I still don't know how we did it, but by 1:30 AM we sneaked through the SS guards and got into the workshop. And there we found the secret exit, a small window with sagging bent bars, four meters high leading outside the camp into a potato field. There were only a few escapees, but others followed at dawn. The Gestapo discovered the window and chased the fugitives, firing their machine guns.
We ran and managed to hide in the cellar of a burnt house. Those who were caught were shot immediately, others were sent to Panor, and many are buried in the ‘Cheap Houses’. The few who had enough patience and some food for a few days remained free. And that was the fate of the Vilna Jews in the HKF camp, including Malke, his son and wife and several Ashmen families.
Lova, his friend and I left Vilna and wandered in the woods and trails in constant fear of the Germans, or the ‘White’ or ‘Black’ partisans, with no food, swollen and lacerated feet. In 12 days we finally reached Olshan, No one had recognized us; we feared our own shadows. For a week we hid among the peasants in Slobodi, as Poles. The peasants had known me since childhood, but didn't recognize me now. When the Russians recaptured the area, we stayed in Olshan. The first Jew we met was Velvel Tchepelinski.
Now we live in America and have two children. In our hearts remain sadness and open wounds. Lova's parents and brotherskilled with the men of Oshmen; my fathermurdered in Estonia; my mother in Panor, others in Volozhin and Shemberg. My Baruch would have been 19.
by Abrohom Potashnik
After the Germans had secured Olshan, the war spread to Russia. The Jews gave up hope for any assistance. The Poles of Olshan were jubilant. The Germans directed all Jews must wear a yellow star on their sleeves. The Polish and White Russian police were given a free hand to do whatever they wanted to do with the Jews. Every night they would ransack the Jewish homes, beating the Jews and forcing them to do hard labor in the fields, forests and streets. In December 1941, things got even worse. The police and Gestapo had seized all the furs from the Jews, and then in March 1942, they confiscated all the cows from the ghetto. Even the poorest of Jews had some tiny fur to shelter against the cold, and the loss of the cows meant no milk for the babies.
In preparation for the liquidation of the Olshan ghetto, the Germans directed the Judenrat to select 200 workcapable men and women, to be stationed at the gate; they could bring their food. They were lined up in rows and taken by train to Zhezhmir. The ghetto was gradually emptied, the Olshan Jews were driven to Oshmen, as were those from Kreve, Smorgen and other shtetlach. Most of these were shot, including my mother Chane Sarah Potashnik.
Germans Allow Family ReUnions, Masking their Extermination Plans
In order to minimize contacts with the partisans, who were increasing in number near Vilna and White Russia, the Germans authorized family camps, to unify families, and allowed them to bring their ‘soft’ goods and food. So the Jews of Sol, Smorgen, Oshmen, Michaleshak, Svir and Olshan the last remaining old Jewish communitieswere packed up into freight cars in April 1943 and brought to Zhezhmir and Vevye.
Some of the Jews from the smaller communities had volunteered to join the Kovne ghetto to unite with their families. In 1943, a train from Vilna with 4000 Jews was halted in a forest near Panor Camp. There a band of Latvian police units opened fire with machine guns, and only a few Jews escaped alive. Several women made it to Kovne, and related the details of this massacre.
Another transport of Jews, assembled from various camps directed by the Kovne Judenrat, eventually was taken to Kashindor Camp. Some of these, assigned to work in the forest, joined up with the partisans and didn't return to camp. To prevent further escapes, the Gestapo doubled the guard, and threatened execution. The prisoners were assembled, beaten and taken on the train to Aleksat, which was the designated camp for Soviet prisoners. They were assigned to work at the airport, digging ditches, hauling earth, and carrying loads of cement. This camp was 30 km. from Kovne. Then in May 1943 we were taken to Koslov, where there were about 400 Jews from Vilna, Smorgen, Oshmen.
When the Red Army neared Vilna in June 1944, we were directed towards Kovne and told that we must drop to the ground prone if any partisans appeared, or else we'd be shot. We lined up in groups of five, holding small packs. Guarded by soldiers armed with machine guns and hand guns we were marched toward Kovne. After about 10 km, at the approach of dusk, 140 men and women ran off into the woods. The rest of us were brought to the Kovne ghetto, to join the ranks of Jews already there.
From the ghetto we could hear the bomb explosions, used by the Gestapo to destroy the bunkers used by fugitive Jews. Wednesday, July 12, 1944, at dawn more than 2000 of us were ordered to line up in groups of 100, guarded closely by Gestapo armed with automatic rifles, and marched through side streets of the town to the train station at Aleksat.
Accompanied by dark clouds, thunder and heavy rain, many Jews tried to escape, but the Gestapo men opened fire and many Jews were shot. Only a few got away. By the heavily guarded ramps stood 40 freight cars with barred windows. The Jews from the work camps around Kovne were also brought in, so over 3000 Jews were jammed into the cars like herring in a barrel. The train didn't stop at any station on the way to Germany. At Tugenhof, near Danzig, the train finally stopped and unloaded the women and the children.
Suffering in the Kaufering Camps
The men were sent to camps near Landsberg am Lech. In the summer of 1944, the 11 camps there were named Kaufering, because that was the closest train station. These camps lasted barely 9 months. Here the Jews built underground factories, while additional transports brought in thousands of additional hungry thirsty Jews, including me and my brother Yeshua. He died in early January 1945.
The camps were surrounded by barbed wire and guard posts stood at all 4 corners, with heavily armed SS men, ready with machine guns and grenades. The barracks were flimsy, painted green, and housed Jews from Vilna, Oshmen, Smorgen, and Krever. Olshaners included Sholom Kaplan, Ephrim Afrimovitch, BruchHirsch Gurvich, Asher Gurvich, Yikosel Koslovski, Yeshihu Leibman and his nephew Israel, Shmuen Gurvich from Kreve. In camp 5 were Boris Potashnik, Mordechai Segalovich.
The SS guards were experienced in tormenting us. They were all murderers and sadists, who patrolled the camp with heavy clubs, beating and slaughtering without pity. All of our belongings had been taken away, and we were clothed in the usual striped concentration camp garb, with a pair of wooden shoes. There were 20 men in each barrack, and we slept on the hard ground. In September, with onset of heavy rains, the barracks were flooded, then in December winter brought high winds, snow and frost. We were allowed to install shacks from plain boards, which sheltered 40 men at a time.
Shivering from the cold and our skimpy clothing, we fashioned undershirts from the cement bags. Once the Germans caught five boys who had wrapped these bags under their clothes. For this crime, the Germans made a public spectacle and the boys were hung. In January, we were issued torn and dirty jackets, specially labeled to identify us as imprisoned slaves.
We were awakened at dawn by a shrill whistle, and had a half hour to get dressed, wash up in cold water without soap. At 5:30 a second whistle summoned us for rollcall. Anyone who was late was severely beaten. The path to our work site took another half hour. The snow clung to our wooden shoes. We were exhausted by the time we got to the site, while being beaten by the German supervisors, who had been selected for their brutality. Many Jews were injured at work and many perished there.
After work, we returned ‘home’ to the camp, drained, with swollen injured feet. Especially in the last few months we were starved on a diet of 120 grams of bread daily, a pat of margarine, and potato or cabbage soup. The tortured slaves often died suddenly, either at work or at night, unable to arise, from freezing or from beatings, which seemed to get worse as liberation approached. The inmates died like flies from starvation and weakness. It should be noted that the Germans intensified their brutality in the camps and in flight even as the end of the war was near.
On April 23, 1945, the order was given to move the Jews on to Tirol, the start of the infamous Death March. Many hundreds fell on the way and on April 30, the SS guards fled. On that day we were in Alloch, near Munich, liberated by the American army.
by Aaron Shuster
In Zhelianke, near Oshmen, was the common mass burial site for Jews of Olshan, Oshmen, Kreve, Smorgen and others, tortured to death by the Germans in 1943. The victims were assembled in Oshmen. After a precise tabulation, the Germans selected those to be killed, and they were brought to Zhelianke and then to the execution site. Guarded by Vilna ghetto police, they were locked up for the night, then shot down in the morning at the edge of the woods.
After the war, Jewish survivors returned to this place where their nearest and dearest had been murdered. The horror of this site was indescribable, a huge ditch between the woods and the adjacent field, on which peasants' cows now grazed. The grave site was distinguished by the darkgreen grass, beneath which now rested the bleached bones and shoes of the victims.
As far as possible, the remains were gathered together in one place. Local peasants showed us another solitary grave of a woman who had been shot there. She had escaped from the barn and had wandered around for a few days before being shot down by the Germans after the mass execution. We dug up this woman's grave and we recognized the garment wrapped around her. We identified her as Malche Katz from Olshan, Simon Katz's wife. Our group established a memorial site with grave stone inscribed In Memory of the Murdered Jews. Every year we held a memorial service, and the relatives would say Kaddish. We left an annual payment for a local peasant to take care of this site.
To our great sorrow, in the year that we left, 1957, the memorial site was damaged by shepherds and their cows. I am sure that the remaining Jews of Ashmen continue to hold an annual memorial service on this mass grave of Zhelianke.
by Ziml Abramovitz
A Remembrance of My Two Brothers Isaac and Gershon Abramovitz
On the 19th memorial reunion in New York, the famous Holocaust researcher Mordechai Bernstein, gave a dramatic presentation about how he discovered a previously unknown cemetery containing 1755 unidentified bodies. This had been part of the Dachau camp complex, where so many lives were destroyed from October 1944 until April 1945, shortly before Hitler's downfall. Among them were 347 from Vilna, and 50 from the other shetlech in that region, Oshmen, Olshan, Podbrodz, Smorgen, Svir, Sventzion, Trok, Voloshin, Kreve, Lide, Ivie, etc.
Every name was recorded with birthdate, nationality, and origin, and date of burial. As Mordechai Bernstein related: I was there at the cemetery, a huge stone , and on the pedestal I read the inscription in French: In Memory of the 1755 Victims of Nazi Barbarism, Who Lie Here , signed by the French authority. Behind this stone stood a forest of stones, each with a number from 1 to 1755. There, theoretically, lie the bodies of these tortured victims, but in fact they cannot be individually identified.
In these slave camps, only men were brought, who could still be exploited for labor, but they died like flies from the unbearable punishment. Their bodies were carried out to a field behind the town and discarded, sometimes covered with a little sand, and so developed a huge pile of bones. When the French army took the town, they found these piles of bones and knew their origin. They ordered the local SS and other camp guards to bury the remains.
When the French found these remains, they issued an order that 1755 graves should be created, each one containing a symbol such as a bone or skeleton, and that a stone should be erected for each, numbered as noted. Leafing through the records I was shattered to recognize a number of familiar names, of wellknown Jewish families from JerusalemDlita and their suburbs: Chvolles, Pupke, Kovarski, Klotchka, Kinkulkin, Stolper, Shulkins.
Standing there at the Shemberger Bone Monument, in front of the stones atop the countless Jewish bones, an unheard voice rose from these thousands of mounds:
Remember us! Know Who Lies in This Place. The Voices of Our Bones Must Be Heard!
Among the records kept so punctiliously by the heartless German assassins I found my brothers Isaac and Gershon, and also Motel Koslovski from Olshan.
Isaac was killed on November 27, 1944, at age 21. Before the war, he had been a student at Epstein's Vilna gymnasium, excelling at mathematics. The Nazis sent him to various concentration camps and ghettos and finally to Shemberg. Gershon, tall, handsome and athletic joined his father's flax business and managed the facility in Vilna. During the Soviet period, he was the chief flax broker, and expected a successful future. Along with Isaac, he suffered through various camps, ending in Shemberg on April 5, 1945, just three days before liberation by the French.
Shemberg is just part of the horrors inflicted by the German murderers and their accomplices. My mother Gutl rests in the giant mass graves at Vilna, and in 1943 my father Shepsel Abramovitch ended in the huge death camps of Estonia. In the mass graves of the Olshan Jews in 1942 in Zhelianke and Volozhin, were buried my aunts, uncles, cousins, the whole Voronovski family, Malke Katz, and others. In the KinderAktion in the Vilna ghetto in 1944, my sister's 3 1/2 year old boy perished, named for my uncle Bruch Abramovitch, who had been the first victim in Olshan, deliberately killed in the first days of the fascist attack on the Soviet Union. No trace of his family remains.
In my heart, I feel open wounds, which will last until my last breath, the memory of the suffering of my nearest and dearest ones. I hope my words, inscribed with great pain, will reach all those remaining in my family. I'll never forget them and will always bear their memory in my heart.
All the fascist murderers and their allies should be cursed for all eternity.
by Michal KoslovskiGurevitch
Shmuel Tchepelunski was born in Olshan in 1915. His parents, Rivka and Haichl prospered with their restaurant business, had a nice home, and imbued Shmuel with their national Jewish spirit. In the town they were wellknown and respected. After finishing public school, the tall broad shouldered Shmuel joined the Hashomer Hatzeir and was active with the eventual goal of going to Israel. The Holocaust destroyed his hopes..
In 1942, Shmuel along with 200 Olshan youths was sent to Zhezhmir for slave labor, and then to Kashidor. These youths continually thought about escaping to join the partisan fighters in the woods. Despite severe restrictions and great dangers, escape was not too difficult, but connecting to the partisans was much harder. In 194142 such attempts failed due to starvation and freezing weather, and also because of attacks from White Russian and Polish gangs on the trails, the towns and the forests. Besides, no one wanted to endanger the lives of their families, who would be identified and then shot by the Germans.
After the German children murders in Kashidor, it became clear that the Germans intended to kill everyone. Shmuel and his friends planned to escape to the partisans. He was one of the forest workers who had made contact with a partisan unit, the Svovodnaya Litva, in the Rudnitzki forest. In early 1944, Shmuel and his group disarmed their German guards and fled into the forest. They knew what would happen to those left behind in the camp. They met the partisans and made a plan to save the 300 Jews left in Kashidor.
After a 50 km. flight through fields and woods five days later, Shmuel along with Sholem Milikovski from Kreve, Avrashke Landsman from Sumilishki and two Christians attracted by his leadership, met up with some partisan contacts who lived on the edge of the forest near Kashidor. The Latvian contact however turned out to be a German agent and a traitor. He didn't tell them that the camp had already been liquidated, and advised them to proceed to Kashidor to rescue the Jews. He informed the Germans, who arrived heavily armed and despite a heroic defense, the five were killed. In a few days, the partisans burned the farm of the Latvian traitor who had escaped earlier with his family.
by Ziml Abramovitch
In June 1941, when the Germans entered Olshan, I was in Kiev, Russia, where I was studying bookkeeping. My only thought was to go home, but when I got to Vitebsk, all the roads were closed. I encountered a stream of refugees from the Vilna region, who had decided to flee their homes. With them I was evacuated deep into Russia, to Bashkirye, in a Kolchoz.
After a few months, men were being called to mobilization points. Despite the huge losses of the Russian army at that time, the remnants of the Polish army were not taken, but were sent to work battalions. I was 17 and I wanted to fight against the Germans. I thought that when I had trained to be a soldier on the battlefront, I would ask to be sent off to join the partisans in our area. In order to be accepted into the Red Army, I tore up my passport and at the mobilization point I said I was born in Olshan, in the Minsk area. So I was deemed ‘kosher’, and was accepted into the army. After three months of training I was qualified to be an instructor for sharpshooting.
With the Soviet Liberation Army
In the summer of 1944, shortly after the liberation of the Olshan area, I got the first letter from my home, from my sister Rive, the only remaining survivor in my family. In her letter she described the horror and devastation which had occurred to us all. At that time I was just finishing officer school to which I had been sent because of my distinguished record in the war against the Germans. I took part in the battles in the Ukraine. I was in the first Ukrainian front, the 92nd infantry division. I helped to liberate Poland, and when our forward march had paused near the Veisel, I was sent by staff from the front on other important dangerous missions.
On Jan 18, 1945, our division participated in the liberation of Tshenstachov and a large labor camp, where most of the inmates were Polish Jews. They had been working in a munitions factory. On leave, I visited the Jewish camp survivors. I found them in the houses which had previously been occupied by SS officers. The houses had not been touched; the SS were concerned only with saving their skin. I saw young and middleaged women, skinny, prematurely aged, who couldn't get accustomed to their freedom, their relief from the constant threat of destruction. They also couldn't believe that a Jew, an officer, a Pole could be their liberator. For one whole night they told me about their terrible experiences and suffering.
In a few days, after taking Krakow, our division was distinguished as the ‘Krakow Division’. The main highway to Breslav [today Vuratzlov], was strewn with dead Germans. I recall an episode: After an artillery assault, we took a town near Breslau, from which the Germans had fled. My unit was directed to search the houses. My group, with six soldiers, entered a beautiful undamaged house. When we entered a bedroom we found an elderly woman in bed wearing a wig on her head. After considering this ‘invalid’, we tore off her outer garments, revealing an SS officer, and then we found another one hiding.
They took off their disguises, and begged for mercy. They were innocent, just soldiers. But when I told them that I was a Jew, they quickly fell silent, expecting the worst. The two German murderers were degraded and frightened, their heads bowed, trembling in front of a Jewish boy from Olshan. My immediate impulse was to put an end to these criminals, but I had to obey my strict orders to bring them back to the base.
As we got further into Germany, the fighting became more difficult and bitter, and we suffered heavy losses. Bur our determination to destroy the fascist monsters persevered and we defeated them. On the CzechGerman border town of Vakenov, I was severely wounded. That was the month of the German capitulation.
[copies of the Russian declaration and medal ‘For the victory over Germany in the Great Fatherland War 194145’.]
I went through several army hospitals in Germany, Poland, and then back to Russia, where I was discharged as a war invalid. I was selected for the order of ‘Fatherland War’, with medal, and came home to Olshan at end of 1945. The only survivor from my large family was my sister Riva, who is now in America. The rest of my family was killed by the Germans.
by Sima SoladuchaRudnick
There were many Olshaners in the Kashidor camp, including my brother Yossl, now in Israel, and my sister Zelda, who later suffered a miserable death. In Kashidor, there were many youths as well as mothers with their children. Life there was a little easier, there was more food. There was still some hope for the future. There were quiet moments when young couples got together, unable to contain their youthful emotions. But this didn't last long. On a clear morning, we were assembled and the camp was surrounded. We were panicstricken, we ran back and forth, confused. Later we found that the little children had been taken away.
The Germans grabbed these innocent souls away from their mothers' hands, crowded them into wagons and drove off. My mother climbed up to be with her children, and my father was sent to a slave labor camp where he perished. Then we had to go to our labor, loading and unloading wagons, felling trees. Even the women were used to cut the branches and do other tasks, which normally were done only by men.
We had heard a lot about the partisans, fighting in the woods. We all dreamed of joining these fighters, but this seemed impossible. Finally a few workers broke away to unite with them, assisted by a Latvian woodsman. We agreed on a place, day and time to meet. In April 1944, at the prearranged time at noon when the guards were having lunch, we silently stole away in the forest, hoping to meet up with the partisans.
Sadly, the agreement had been delayed except for those who had originally planned the meeting. We wandered around in the woods for a few hours, but the guards had been alerted. They forced their captives to return to the camp. But I had split off, following a Kovne woman, who was determined not to return. She also heard that her husband had a gun and was waiting for an opportunity. At that moment, I forgot about my brother and sister, who had been forced to return to the camp and would face certain death. Along with a few others like me, 20 of us got together at night. One of us, Isaac Ziskind, fortunately knew the forest warden, an agent of the partisans. Every day he brought us some food, and also some old coats for shelter, since we had dropped everything during our flight. I'll never forget how free I felt, getting up from our shelters on the ground. We'd wash our faces in the dew on the leaves, and even swallow some drops since we didn't have any water.
After two terrible weeks, we found our meeting place, then wandered two more days from town to town, in great danger of being reported by the peasants, and finally found the partisans. The partisans were divided into sections, each with a commander who made assignments. We were assigned to do domestic work, cooking and washing clothes for the men. Every day they went out on their missions, such as laying mines, destroying wagons, burning Germanoccupied towns, tearing down electric junctions, and other such important tasks, often very dangerous.
We were threatened by airplanes firing into the woods; at night we often had to retreat into the swamps. I was with the partisans for four months. On July 8, 1944, the First Latvian brigade, to which we belonged, was ordered by their top command in Moscow, to march on Vilna. On the way we met up with the Red Army, which had cut off Vilna, on the way to Kovne. All the partisan brigades took part in the Rudnitzker attack.
The partisans took over the administration in Vilna. Many of them had volunteered to join the Red Army, others served as the civilian police, to clean up any remnants of the Nazi presence. Along with two other girls from Olshan, we returned. No one was left of my family, but luckily a brother, Yosef Soladucha survived, now living in Israel.
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