David P. Boder Interviews Jacob Oleiski; August 20, 1946; Paris, France

var english_translation = { interview: [ David Boder

[In English] August the . . . August the 20th, 1946. Paris. The interviewee is Mr. Olinsky [mispronounced by Boder], a high official in the American occupied . . . a high official in the Displaced People's camps and [is here] on the business of displaced people in the American occupied zone.

David Boder

[In Yiddish] Mr. Oleiski, would you be so kind as to tell us where you are now and what your post is in reference to the Jewish refugees, or the Jewish persons in the American zone?

Jacob Oleiski

I am now, that means I live in Munich. In Munich I have a post as member of the Central Committee of the Liberated Jews in Germany; and I direct, as an elected member, the process of 'industrialization' [incorporating into a productive life] and 'restratification' of the Jews in Germany. At the same time, I have the mandate of the society of ORT UNION and I am the director of the Society ORT in the whole American zone.

David Boder

Now tell me, does the American government permit such societies, such organizations?

Jacob Oleiski

The ORT society . . . the ORT society is a part of UNRRA, and the American Military Force aids with greatest sympathies the activities of the ORT. They [the Americans] find that the 'restratification' . . . the reincorporation of the Jews into the process of industry, their requalification, and their preparation for a new life, to be one of the most important tasks to be achieved in the American zone. [NOTE: He uses for the second time the word Umschichtung, which would almost mean, 'reculturation'. It means the return of the people from the level of social 'sub-strata' or 'anti-strata' to a level of social acceptability and dignity]. For this reason the work of the ORT is [in Hebrew] 'in the order of the day', so that all the liberated Jews may be incorporated again in the most important, normal process of work.

David Boder

As a psychologist, I should like to know what are your greatest . . . greatest difficulties; with what kind of people among the refugees, the [ex] prisoners, do you have the greatest difficulties?

Jacob Oleiski

[A pauseâIn a solemn tone] You must understand, and so the world in general must comprehend, that we were condemned to perish by labor. The largest part of the Jewish Kibbutz [meaning here, apparently, general working communities] . . . of the Jewish Kibbutzes in Eastern Europe were annihilated. Only a small part [of the Jews], the healthier ones, were led away to Germany to the concentration camps, and there they were compelled to work hard physically . . . the hardest physical labor; and the largest part has perished. And as a consequence, a certain 'complex' has developed among the 'liberated Jews,' a negative attitude towards work. And for us, the public workers, the responsible people who stand at the head of the Jewish commonwealth in Germany, it is the task to endeavor to extirpate this negative complex, to eradicate it from the soul of the Jewish person, and to enlighten him and tell [him], 'Times are different and conditions are different; and therefore, the attitude towards work must be entirely different.' And that is the most important job which I am doing at the present. We endeavor, by various methods, to rehabilitate the Jewish person towards work. And by means of this we intend to liberate him from the dark past [?] and prepare him for a brighter and clearer futureâwith faith in people, faith in life, and faith in himself, since this is the most important thing in achieving a healthy personality.

David Boder

Now tell me, I have little hope that I will be able to enter the American Zone [This refers to my great difficulties in getting clearance for Germany, which later, however, was obtained]. Will you please describe, how do the Jews live and where do they live now in the American Zone? And I also want to know . . . Tell me this and then I have some other questions.

Jacob Oleiski

The largest part of the Jews live in lagers in the American Zone. These lagers are former armories, or transient homes, and former factories which had many workers. A smaller part lives in [small] towns . . . in cities and towns. The dwellings of the people are not happy, not decent [citizen-like] and not pleasant. Several families are compelled to live in one large room; people are compelled to eat in large refectories, it is impossible to create that genial [way of] life which would . . . under which that great mournful past which the people have experienced could be forgotten.

David Boder

Well . . . Go ahead . . . Now let me tell you, people who live in warmth and contentment . . . could possibly think that if they had survived 'the Germans' they would be happy and satisfied with anything they got. How can you explain the fact that they are unhappy and dissatisfied? [It is understood that this question was asked for the benefit of a . . . 'hypothetical' future reader] . . . That again is a psychological question.

Jacob Oleiski

[A Pause. He continues in a solemn voice as if 'Once an orator, always an orator,' or as if 'No opportunity should be missed to work for the cause, which in his case, has definitely absorbed his existence.'] First of all [?], the heavy, bitter disappointment in the future. The Jews in Germany have believed and thought that first of all . . . first of all, attention would be directed towards those people who have gone through so much, and have lived through so much. And therefore, we thought that only a short time would pass and the possibility would be created that we would be able to depart for such a country, in a Jewish community, where we could lead a real life and could forget the 'climate', land, and people who brought over us so much suffering and misfortune. A Jew in Germany who moves about surrounded completely by Germansâamong Germansâis unable to forget the grave experiences. Besides the Jews in Germany are compelled to look on and see that they who once lived a fine and citizenlike life, possessing everything; and then the Germans had everything taken away and have ruined everything that they possessedâmaterially and spiritually . . . and these people [the Germans] live a normal life in beautiful apartments, apartments consisting of several rooms; they are able to have everything. And moreover, many, many of their criminals go around at liberty in disguise, and are being abetted by the German population. And still more, one does not see any spiritual transformation or change in the German people. We do not hear and we do not see that what we have expected, and that what we have observed in other peopleâand especially among us Jews. When the Jewish people have ever committed any misdeeds against God or man, or nations, any social deed, any immoral deed, we had our people who stood up, . . . our prophets who shouted to the people and appealed to the conscience of the people, and would tell them that they had committed a crime and that the crime had to be atoned for.But one does not notice the like . . . one does not observe the like in the German people. And that, too, is one of the greatest disappointments, and that is one of the greatest outrages which plagues the Jewish person. And he asks . . . Who knows . . . ? Who knows whether or not in a very short time, this malicious, poisonous swine in the heart of Europe, will rise again and will gorge himself, gorge himself againâto give humanity an encore of what he has planned beforeâto bring death to all progress of mankind?

David Boder

Now, let us return to the concrete situation. You say people live in lagers. [A few words are said in whispers, apparently referring to the position of the microphone.] Are there complete Jewish families again? Are there married people with children? How do they live?

Jacob Oleiski

As we came out of the concentration camps there were among us neither children or old people. There were only people within the ages of eighteen to forty, to forty-five. Lonely [single] people, wretched people. Subsequently, a flow of people, partisans, who had lived in the forests came. And they had escaped from the ghettos with their families, and those were the first children and the first old people which we came about to see. Third, another flow of people came who, too, were in hiding under 'Aryan papers;' were hidden in families, in better Christian familiesâthey came to us with their whole families. Also, very many marriages were consumated within that year; and today, there are daily many, many weddings. And so, as if nature is intending to make good for this great loss which occurred due to this greatest of Jewish catastrophes, we see very many births at present. Daily tenths of births. The Jewish person who had to live all that time in concentration camps, be it as a man, be it as a woman, separated; and suffering at present the mighty disappointment in not finding his family in [word not clear]; and everyone is endeavoring to achieve an intimate family life. And through this fact, many families are being founded, close families. And still there are conditions which impede the founding of numerous families, since it becomes necessary to live in single . . . that several families have to live in a single room. And that is one of the gravest of the . . . [he raises his voice] better to say, not only the gravest but the utmost unjust treatment of the gravely tortured people, that conditions cannot be brought about so that the mournful past could be forgotten. That would be greatly enhanced if we could create conditions under which Jewish families could live by themselves.

David Boder

Now tell me, Mr. Oleiski [the name is mispronounced] . . . I am a sociologist, I am a psychologist. Let us imagine that there is a room of this size [the interview took place in an average size room in the Grand Hotel in Paris, about 12' x 12', if I remember correctly] or a bit larger. How can several families live there? Describe it to meâit is unbelievable.

Jacob Oleiski

In a room in which several families have to live in is being placed a cupboard, or two wardrobes, and it [the room] is being subdivided in two or three parts, or a blanket, a comforter, or a bedsheet is hung up; and so one 'little' family separates itself from the other 'little' family. [The word 'little' signifies here the diminutive form of the word 'family', It has the meaning both of endearment and compassion.] Of course, it is not good indeed, because at times quarrels occur. People want to achieve some coziness, not only in respect to their foodstuffs, which are tasteless or bad tasting; monotonous, as supplied by the enormous refectories . . . canned meat . . . People crave at times to prepare their own supper in a genial moment . . . and [the crowded living conditions] become badly disturbing and very unpleasant.

David Boder

Now then . . . the UNRRA provides the food. How is it done..? There are large refectories . . . and then . . . ? Do people come three times a day for meals?

Jacob Oleiski

People come three times a day to the refectories to eat, and the food is being dealt out there. But in recent times it was accomplished through great efforts, because the UNRRA did not want to agree to its . . . They said: those who get . . . if the food should be given, the dry [unprepared] food [be given] to take home, it could be used for other purposes, or exchanged [traded]. But we provided to them that for families it is much more important that they get their dry supplies, that they themselves should fix their meals, and [be able] to prepare them the way the family knows how. And we have accomplished that, and though we get our supplies in the form of canned foods, a form from which it is very difficult to prepare a palatable meal which would make life more pleasant for the people . . .

David Boder

Now let us take another topic. Besides . . . besides the training given by ORT, as reported [at the convention], what kind of cultural life do people have there?

Jacob Oleiski

When we observe the present way of life in the Jewish lagers, we must say, and we may say it with pride, that such a vitality has emerged again among the Jewish people; and we see a Jewish social and cultural life gushing in all little corners where Jewish . . . Jews live communities. Take the lagers Landsberg, Ferenwald [?], Feldafing. You have not only a trade school where hundreds of people learn a trade; you have not only an elementary school; you have not only a 'People's university,' you also have there a kindergarten, you have a theatre, you have a choir; you have a great sports organization, sometimes one, sometimes two. You have a broadly ramified party life. All parties of the Jewish street [old-time Jewish sections of cities] and all varieties of Zionism. Hundreds of Kibbutzim [work communities]. You have everything that once existed in the Jewish towns, but with a much greater impetus, in a much broader shape. You have on top a Jewish committee chosen by democratic elections, responsible [?] for the whole social and cultural life; so that we can say with pride that the Jew has returned again . . . that in a social and cultural sense he has again risen to the heights. And those ethical principles which we have carried through generations are firmly ingrained into the soul of the Jew, and we see it return to full development and to full spiritual ascent, as we have seen it before.

David Boder

Now tell me. IT is being said that there were 'good' Germans, be it professors, be it doctors, be it artisans . . . There are now German socialists and the like . . . Is there any common life or intercourse between the Jews and the local German population?

Jacob Oleiski

There is no common life between the Jews and the local German population, and there never will be such. There remains for eternity a wall which will not disappear,âa much greater wall than at one time between the Jews and Spain. If the Jews . . . if the Jews would still be living in the religious . . . in those religious sentiments, which they would . . . by which the Jews once lived in Spain . . . the curse which the Jews would put on Germany . . . the form of the curse and the scope [?] of the curse would be much sharper than the one evoked before . . . There is no contact and no business [?] between the Jewish . . . the real Jewish man. Sure, it may happen that a Jew from a lager may trade with a German for one object or another he may need, to obtain an indispensable object which he cannot find in the lager. But that is only an instant, a passing [episode], which does not signify any contact.

David Boder

Are there no individual cases of that what we call 'fraternizing?' Say that a Jew may marry a German . . . a German girl?

Jacob Oleiski

There are such incidents, and such incidents have happened. And at the last meeting of the Central Committee . . . at the last meeting, not of the Central Committee, at the last meeting of the Council, there were even considered such proposals, to call on the Jewish committeesâand the wish emanated not from religious people, but from people who are only nationally minded. People, Jews, representatives who declared that such people who could enter nowadays in intimate friendship with the Germans, must be ostracized [excommunicated] and excluded from the Jewish community. I do not see for the time being . . .

David Boder

Hm . . .

Jacob Oleiski

. . . with the mood that prevails in Germany, and with the attitude and indifference of the German population even now towards our depredations . . . I do not see any possibility of any communication [?] between us Jews even with the progressives, even with those circles of population who have not participated in the Hitler regime.

David Boder

Now tell me, what are the social relationships between the men and women of the American army and the former prisoners. How . . . did it happen that an American soldier has never [?] married a Jewish girl? [This question seems to have been pertinent in those days].

Jacob Oleiski

[Pause] It is possible that individual cases have occured of American soldiers who got together with Jewish girls. I know very little about it. I know that Jewish soldiers from America have formed friendships with Jewish girls.

David Boder

They did?

Jacob Oleiski

Yes.

David Boder

Yes..

Jacob Oleiski

Jewish soldiers, or Jewish officers. But in general, as to Americans [apparently Christians], I have not heard. You must know that we live altogether isolated in the lagers or in the cities, and the ordinary [?] Jewish girl and the ordinary [?] Jewish boy have longed one for the other. And in entering in a friendship they also longed for the Jewish community life [??], from which they were torn away. And that is why the weddings take place mainly in the lagers, and mainly between a . . . between Jewish boys and girls. It is possible that the language, it is possible that more serious relationships, it is possible that these [factors] impeded the instances of contact between the American soldiers and the Jewish . . . the Jewish women.

David Boder

Tell me, if people live in a lager are they able to go around freely through the cities? May one go around freely, travel somewhere?

Jacob Oleiski

Yes. One may travel, one may travel back and forth, one may freely move through the cities. It was only at the beginning that people had to have passes in order to leave the lager. But now one may travel everywhere in the American Zoneâone may move freely. But to transfer from one lager to another, to remain, to live there, to freely change from one lager to another is not possible, because one may loose his food allotment and the other lager would not accept him. The lagers are mostly closed, and for new people it is very, very difficult. only when it pertains to a very important and useful person.

David Boder

Yes..

Jacob Oleiski

Skilled workers or cultural workers, or a person needed for an important public officeâonly for such people can one prevail upon the director that he permit acceptance [of him] into the lager.

David Boder

Do you have any entertainment in the lager? [In English] 'motion pictures;' I mean cinemas, concerts, theaters . . .

Jacob Oleiski

I have told you that there is an extensive cultural life in the lagers. We started immediately to do a great deal in that field. The Jew longed a great deal for it. All the [cultural] arrangements in the lagers are of the kind that existed before [in the olden times] and they are being taken by storm. One cannot take in so many people. We have cafes, we have a kino, we have our own theater . . .

David Boder

What do you mean, you have cafes. People go there and pay for . . .

Jacob Oleiski

Yes . . . [?]

David Boder

Yes? Now then . . .

Jacob Oleiski

Before the cafes were completely free. We gave to the working man . . . We wanted to attract . . . attract the Jews to work, so we distributed free passes [?] to the kino, free passes for the caf, free passes for the theater.

David Boder

What . . . [request for explanation of the term used for the word 'passes']

Jacob Oleiski

Passes for the kinoâone [otherwise] could not go to the kino 'for free,' to the theater, to the cafe . . . It was all figured out. He had a booklet [registering] where he could go. Once a week to the kino, once to the theater, once to the cafe. Now we have introduced a small fee. Everyone may go to the cafe, he may dance, he can pass the time. And so in the lagers there are facilities to pass the evenings.

David Boder

Besides . . . Go on.

Jacob Oleiski

Besides, we have arranged the first concerts. We have our own cafe orchestra, a concert [?] orchestra with Rausch [?], with Hofmeckler [?], who still played in the Kovno ghetto. We have another orchestra, of former concentration camp prisoners, and this . . . and this orchestra performs more serious music, symphonic music. They travel from lager to lager; and that is a great . . . is of great cultural significance for the jew.

David Boder

Tell me this. You say they pay . . . What kind of money does the person have who lives in a lager?

Jacob Oleiski

[Pause] We have the same money as the Germans.

David Boder

Who gives it to you?

Jacob Oleiski

The money that we have [we possess] for various reasons. First, the officials of the Magistrate, of the Jewish Magistrate who work in the field of social welfare or in other fields, even in the shops, our own productive shops, receive a monthly salary of various amounts, five hundred, six hundred, seven hundred, three hundred, four hundred marks per month. That is first. Then . . .

David Boder

Then they receive their maintenance from the UNRRA free?

Jacob Oleiski

The maintenance from the UNRRA one gets free. Yes.

David Boder

Now then . . .

Jacob Oleiski

And in addition one sells something now and then that one can, that one does not need, what one can . . .

David Boder

.. dispense with?

Jacob Oleiski

.. dispense with. And so one has a chance to have free mark currency.

David Boder

Yes . . .

Jacob Oleiski

Of course, the mark is a devaluated currency and one can buy but little with the mark because everything is calculated and subject to stamps; and for stamps one does not get much from the German population.

David Boder

What about marks? [Here occurred a confusion due to the word 'mark' meaning the unit of German currency, and 'marken' meaning ration stamps.]

Jacob Oleiski

'Marken' [stamps]

David Boder

Well . . .

Jacob Oleiski

And so . . .

David Boder

German Marks . . . [currency]

Jacob Oleiski

Not German marks in order to buy anything.

David Boder

Oh, oh, oh [in English]; ration tickets is what we call them.

Jacob Oleiski

Yes . . .

David Boder

[In German] Ration cards.

Jacob Oleiski

Ration cards. These were given only to the German population; and so to use the money, to spend a lot of money, there is no opportunity.

David Boder

yes..

Jacob Oleiski

One is unable . . . if one should have a lot of money one still could not buy anything. There is nothing to buy.

David Boder

So. Does one get sent any money? . . . from America?

Jacob Oleiski

Yes. There are many who receive from America, not only money . . .

David Boder

Packages?

Jacob Oleiski

. . . they get things also, they get also packages. And that I must say, and I may say it with a clear conscience, and I want to say it frequently, and say it repeatedly, that the Jews of America have . . . have responded to our distress with great warmth, and I feel that they 'co-suffer' with us and are attempting everything in their power to lighten the hard fate that has befallen us. I have seen Jewish officers who barely, who barely could make themselves understood to us, who have been brought up as Americans, in American . . . American culture, and American milieu, who have been devoid of the traditions of the one-time Jewish life in Eastern Europe, and still there beats in them such a warm Jewish heart, and we felt so near; and they have helped us so much in these grave hours which will remain inscribed with golden letters in the history of our people.

David Boder

Now tell me, Mr. Oleiski, something personal. I know that you must be going. We have [only] a few minutes of time. From what lager, where were you personally liberated from?

Jacob Oleiski

After the liquidation of the Kovno Ghetto I was taken . . . We were embarked in freight cars, in Kovno, about [?] twelve hundred Jews. We have seen how the Ghetto was burning, we have seen how the Jewish hospital, the sick and the doctors, were burning.

David Boder

What do you mean, they were burning?

Jacob Oleiski

The sick and the doctors were locked in . . . in the hospital. Fire was set [to it] and they burned, together with the hospital.

David Boder

Alive?

Jacob Oleiski

Burned aliveâin the Ghetto of Kovno, in Slobodka . . .

David Boder

Did you see it yourself?

Jacob Oleiski

I saw it myselfâwith my own eyes. Not only I, but all [of us]; that group of Jews who were removed during the liquidation. I saw it myself. They have . . . we have heard and seen how they dynamited, blasted house after house, because they were searching for Jews in hiding, who hid themselves in cellars and attics. From there, after a three-day journey, we were brought to Stutow, locked in the cars, one of the most dangerous, most horrible camps . . . concentration camps in Germany. There the families were torn apart, men . . .

David Boder

Did you have a family with you?

Jacob Oleiski

No. My wife lived in the city on Aryan papers. My family, my brother perished with his wifeâburned in the Ghetto; and my mother was shot already during the first days [of the invasion] of the Lithuanian province. Already during the first few days all the Jews of the Lithuanian province perished. And so I am now completely desolate, alone. We were taken to Stutow, which was the most dangerous concentration camp of all Eastern Europe. From East Prussia . . . from 'oriental' Prussia. There we were separated, the men sent separately and the women separately. Women with small children and old people were sent to Auschwitz . . . together with the small children. We were embarked in [railroad] cars.

David Boder

Auschwitz is what . . . an annihilation camp?

Jacob Oleiski

Auschwitz is an annihilation camp. But Stutow [too] had a crematory, which was in operation day and night. In Stutow they poisoned and burned the peopleâgas-killed and burned the Jews. And from Stutow we were brought to Dachau. And in Dachau I spent about a year in the working camps [No.] 1,2, and 7. And there, on the twenty-ninth of April, ten kilometers from Landsberg, in a small grave [thicket] near a small village, Schwabhausen, we were liberated by the American army.

David Boder

Here is another question. I have some psychological questions. Have you heard anything about the Gypsy lagers?

Jacob Oleiski

No. Only that I was told by other Jewish refugees [correcting] inmates in our Dachau lager that there was in Auschwitz also a lager, were barracks in which were congregated the Gypsies.

David Boder

Where were they from?

Jacob Oleiski

The Gypsies were rounded up in Germany and in other countries. And these gypsies were occupied there . . . from the beginning they were treated well . . . and they even were used as capos [trustys] and for various other more privileged posts.

David Boder

'Capos' are overseers?

Jacob Oleiski

'Capos' were called the overseers, yes. The ones selected to do the dirty labors for the SS in the lagers.

David Boder

Yes..

Jacob Oleiski

And afterwards, one 'nice day' they were all gathered together and they were all exterminated, gas-killed and burned in Auschwitz.

David Boder

That you have heard?

Jacob Oleiski

I was told this by comrades, by friends who were together with me in the Dachau lager, who previously [?] were in Auschwitz.

David Boder

What is the estimate? How many thousands of them were there that a gypsy question could have emerged?

Jacob Oleiski

That is hard for me to tell; it is unknown to me.

David Boder

Are they estimated in the thousands?

Jacob Oleiski

Possibly only in the thousands. For example, in Lithuania the Gypsies remained freeânothing was done to them. When we . . . when they would lead us to hard work, heavily guarded by the SS, to the airport; and we had no right to go on the sidewalkâwe had to walk in the street, heavily guarded . . . We would see the Gypsies then walking on the sidewalks, moving around freely. In Lithuania the Gypsies were not molested.

David Boder

Now then, Mr. Oleiski, you have to go to the convention [of the ORT then in session in Paris] and we also have to get something to eat. So for today we shall have to conclude. If you think you have some other things to tell, we shall get together yet again. I would be very grateful if you would grant me 'another spool' of interview.

Jacob Oleiski

Thanks.

David Boder

I thank you very much. [In English] Paris, August 20, 1946, at the end of the ORT Convention. An Illinois Institute of Technology recording. [See Note at the end of Spool 209 page]