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

  • 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 pause—In 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 future—with 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 Germans—among Germans—is 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 possessed—materially 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 people—and 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 again—to give humanity an encore of what he has planned before—to 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 families—they 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 me—it 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,—a 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 committees—and 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 Zone—one 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 office—only 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 kino—one [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 alive—in the Ghetto of Kovno, in Slobodka . . .
  • David Boder: Did you see it yourself?
  • Jacob Oleiski: I saw it myself—with 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 wife—burned 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 people—gas-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 free—nothing 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 sidewalk—we 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]
  • David Boder: Paris, August 18, 1946, a speech of Mr. Jacob Oleiski at the World Conference of the ORT. To the best of my recollection, the speech was not read. There may have been some notes. The speech is in a free, higher level of Yiddish; in a Lithuanian dialect not hampered by German.
  • Jacob Oleiski: Comrades and Friends. The Jews once had a custom that when one lived to [see] a new holiday the oration was: Shehekheyonu, Vkijmonu, vhigiyonu hazman haze. [Translation: Who hast kept us alive, hast preserved us, and enabled us to reach these times. He omits, as is often done for purposes of quotation or reference, the first half of the 'brokha', the blessing which in complete form reads: Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us etc.] And now upon the great miracle that has come over this trifle of Jews, a prayer should also be said. But where does one see the 'zman haze' [these times], because the zman haze is not the zman haze. It is not [the instant] that we hoped for and not [the instant] what we have come to. I have not come to you to render a report about Lithuania, my Lithuania, where I led the seventeen years of ORT work, in Lithuania. Fourteen years of normal and three years [of work] in the Ghetto. In the Ghetto, in a small little house on Slobodka [common name for the poor section of town, the other side of the tracks, simi-slums] just across the large, proud and mighty building of the ORT, which was called 'Arise to Work,' which I had built together with all my friends. And how we looked through the tiny windowpanes of this large, proud and mighty building. Not about this Lithuania shall I speak, and not about the Lithuanian Jews shall I now speak. I have been, I had the honor [gratification—the word is in Hebrew] to build the ORT, and to be present at the funeral of the ORT in Lithuania. I shall now speak about [the] Jews in the American Zone, about the Jews of the 'Sheris' . . . of the significant name 'Sheris Hapleitah' [remnants of the refugees] as it is being called; the largest present-day Jewish Kibbutz] collective working community] in Germany, which counts according to our data, according to the data, of the data of the official Jewish representation chosen by democratic elections, from ninety to one hundred thousand. I shall speak today [about] the majority, about these Jews, about the Sheris Hapleitah, about those little remnants of Jews from Poland, Lithuania, Rumania and all . . . Hungary and all cit [ies] . . . countries, communities, which have perished, and the people, and Jews, who have reassembled in Germany. Before I shall turn to speak of the work of the ORT, which we accomplished in the immediate [?] months after the liberation, I consider it my duty and I consider it necessary to give you a bird's view, a short, condensed sketch, on the way in which the present Jewish commonwealth in the American Zone was created . . . What kind of human material represents by itself this Jewish commonwealth [ishuv]? And I should like very much to give you an insight into the difficult, abnormal conditions [under which] the struggle for life has to be waged by this, our heavily tried, suffering people of ours; and what material, what spiritual, inner and exterior factors were operative during these sixteen months after liberation—contributing to arouse deep transformations [?], deep changes in the spiritual, or better expressed, in the psychological condition—psychological thinking, of the remainder of Eastern European Jewery. With this [survey] you will understand better the whole new problematic situation which has been created by the Sheris Hapleitah and you will be able to apprehend all those problems which I wish to present to you in connection with the great, important work of the ORT as it affects the Jews in Germany.
  • Jacob Oleiski: Comrades and friends. I want to be very objective—I want to be objective in speaking of the Sheris Hapleitah in Germany and their quandries. Although I am one of them in flesh and blood, I want to do it 'facing it squarely' because I know that there is being talked a lot over the Sheris Hapleitah and much is being said about the Sheris Hapleitah, but it is being greatly exaggerated, be it in the positive sense, be it in the negative sense. Things are being overrated and understated, and many of you have no clear presentation about the way this commonwealth lives—this wandering commonwealth—which is in a constant state of wandering around; which finds itself—the homeless part of which finds itself—in motion; and through that [my explanation] a great deal will be cleared up.
  • Jacob Oleiski: The important political prisoners of other nationalities journeyed back to heir homelands. And they were together with us in the lagers. And tens of thousands were in the lagers . . . of us were in the lagers. Not [only] Jews. All are [in] hospitals from the lagers. All hsopitals from cities and towns of Germany were occupied to capacity exclusively with Jews. And in the lagers the stronger [?] Jews were, the healthier ones who could move around. And so, as I said, the first problem which faced us was to nurse the people back to health.
  • Jacob Oleiski: The second problem which stood before the Jews, which also preoccupied us—the second problem which preoccupied us as soon as one could get up on his feet—the second question when . . . what has become of our family [uses singular]?
  • Jacob Oleiski: At the liquidation of the ghettos we were dragged away to Germany, from the ghettos of Poland, or the ghettos of Lithuania, we were dragged away to Germany, and there we were led away—after they sorted out the sick, the old, the children [who] were sent away to Auschwitz [an extermination camp]—we were sorted out; men on the one side, women on the other side; women only without children, and of better [younger] age. And we were sent away—men in one kind of lagers, men in camps of hard work; and the women also in camps of hard work] I don't use 'hard labor' here in view of its criminological connotation] just like the men, to work at hard, subterranean work, or to work at large installations which were constructed in Austria. And that is why we hoped and believed that maybe somebody of our family is still alive. That was only . . . when a Jew would recover to health, there stood before him only one query: Go and search, where are members of your family.
  • Jacob Oleiski: And that is why in Germany during the first days, or the first months after liberations, one saw Jews gathered in droves at all railroad stations; Jews were crowding all the highways and byways across Germany. Jews journeyed back to Poland, Jews journeyed back to Lithuania, searching for their families. And these two problems were the order of the day. [Pause] In a short time there stood a Jewish lager, Feldafing, with three to four thousand Jews. The lagers were not [exclusively] Jewish. As I told you, they were mixed lagers, mixed with other nationalities. And it was clear that we had to take care of the most important problem—that we should prevail upon the military authorities to bring about a separation—that we should be able to have lagers for ourselves, Jewish lagers, in which we could be able [?] to organize our life.
  • Jacob Oleiski: The Jewish were . . . the largest part was convinced and has hoped that right after the liberation they would be . . . that for us . . . the whole world will only think exclusively about us. [Continues with irony in his voice] They [the world] don't [want] to think about peace, they don't think in general about 'nothing.' There have remained fifteen, twenty thousands Jews alive through such a great miracle. Does one [the world] have to think of the future? Does one have to preoccupy himself at all with such a problem] problems of the world/? But to the greater part of experienced community workers it was clear, that we shall have to remain [in the DP camps] for long, and we see it already. We knew before the war what happened to prisoners of war, and so we knew it would definitely take a longer time and we would have to stay in Germany. And that is why we devoted ourselves to more serious problems, about how and what to do; and to organize temporarily the Jewish life in Germany. And for that reason, the political task of creating purely Jewish lagers was one of the utmost importance. First, because in the lagers have remained the criminals, and the murderers of us [those who committed at one time, crimes and murder against us] and of our families. There are at present in Germany not only [two words in Hebrew provisionally, translated as [local domestic criminals [?] [Germany is [not only a sediment basin of German criminals, millions of Nazis for whom the whole race bears the guilt for that what has come over us and the democracies of the whole world, but Germany is a sediment basin of Ukranians, Whites [here it means Czarist Russians], Poles [he uses Polacks, which in Eastern Europe does not always have the connotation of contemp], and Lithuanians and Letts—those criminals which are afraid to return home for the day of Judgment [reckoning] which is expecting them. And we said, we cannot be together with them in the lagers, and we ought not to be with them, and we must separate our lives and begin to build up our lives anew [?] on the Jewish social principles as we understand them. [Pause]. There was an event that journeyed back home. I said, I want to be objective, and I shall endeavor to be as objective as possible; but after the 'honors of welcome' which met the Jews at the border, not only a part has run away from the border but also those who returned to Lithuania and other countries have turned around in a few days [??] and returned back [to the lagers in Germany.] All have come back from the places to which they had returned.
  • Jacob Oleiski: I shall subdivide the ninety thousand, the hundred thousand Jews who live in Germany . . . I shall give you a review on how this Kibbutz [working community] has come about.
  • Jacob Oleiski: We subdivide . . . we observe four tendencies which were present. It [the Kibbutz] is composed of four parts. Fifteen to twenty thousand who were liberated immediately, as soon as the Americans alone marched in. That was the first small kernel.
  • Jacob Oleiski: The second part that joined [us] was a stream of Jews who lived as partisans in the forests of Lithuania, Poland and White Russia; and others who had lived under Aryan papers. When they learned that Jews were living in the American Zone and that a Jewish life had more or less established itself there, and that [from there] it was possible to journey to other places—to the Land of Israel or to other relatives; and so, they came to us. That is the second stream. These were the first swallows, when we saw children—those were the first ones; when we saw old people. Until then, for three months we had not seen [Jewish] children and old people at all. That is the second stream.
  • Jacob Oleiski: There came again a third stream of Jews. That was about in April [corrects himself], in November, December, a new stream of Jews came from Poland, Lithuania, and other lands; who were also mostly Jews who lived under Aryan papers and whose lives in Poland and Lithuania had taken on such aspects that they threw away [everything] and came to us. And the fourth great stream, which now continues to grow incessantly from day to day, is the stream after the Kielce pogrom [July 4, 1946; the date of this speech is August 18, 1946, only about seven weeks later. See also postscript to Bassfreund's story, microcards or mimeocopy]. In this short time we received from twenty to thirty thousand Jews. During the last month alone, fifteen to twenty thousand Jews have arrived. And if once we have thought that we may have to remain for a month, or two, or three, and if the Jews have born some illusionary hopes, I do not agree . . . I observe a phenomenon in our life, I who am about them, in them [in their midst], and between them, of a different nature [??]. The Jews brood, and go on brooding. Such life forces them to think very seriously about their future; and although they know that life in Germany will last much longer than was counted for, and if it should even happen that they should soon be admitted to the Land of Israel, the hundred thousand, it still would take a long time until this whole process would be completed.
  • Jacob Oleiski: There stands before us, the Jews, urging [?] and telling [?] and admonishing and pleading to us—we don't have to persuade. If we make an announcement of a training course in some way, we have hundreds [of applicants] and we are unable to accept only a tenth part of them. The Jews are occupation-minded. They know that there are no sentimentalities, no father and no mother, no brother and no sister, and nobody else can help them but they themselves. For a month one is a guest, [for] two months one is a guest and afterwards, one knows, as they saying goes, even with one's own mother one cannot be permanently a guest—one must too [do something]. And this, this is a question over which our Jews, as you see them, over which they brood about, which they think—so different than in other places.
  • Jacob Oleiski: [Pause] What are the attitudes toward us? How is life in the lagers? I must say, about the higher American circles—the attitude toward us is very humane, and with a great deal of understanding . . . with a great deal of understanding. I emphasize—in the higher military circles. But we live in an environment—and you should not think and believe that National Socialism has disappeared in Germany. It has penetrated deeply [??]; it has penetrated deeply into the people and they have learned absolutely nothing. I could prove it to you with very many facts. Letters are still officially being written with the swastika, and many, and many, and many more things I could tell you.
  • Jacob Oleiski: The famous lawyer from America, Heiman, who you [?] have shortly before spoken about [??]—permit me an extension of ten or fifteen minutes—when he had . . . when he came to Berchtesgaden he stood, he traveled to Berchtesgaden to take a look at the place where Hitler . . . the ruins which are there; so he found a woman teacher standing and shedding tears, standing before the house where Hitler proudly [?], where Hitler rose . . . had received Daladier, Chamberlain, and all the others—and she was weeping. He [Heiman] is blond, he does not look Jewish, he speaks German well, so he started a conversation with her. So he said [this word he says in German, change of set; corrects himself in Yiddish] he says, 'he has brought so much misfortune over your people.' 'Yes,' she says, ' but you don't know what a man he was. That was not a man, that was a dear man. He wanted the good so much for our people.'—That was not said by a person, simply a person as one would say, just a person who belongs to the non-educated [non-intelligent] circles of the Germans.
  • Jacob Oleiski: More and many facts could I tell you about. And this attitude [?] evokes a certain discrimination against us and although the Poles [Polacks] and the Germans, and all the others present a heavier burden; and it was even so repeatedly [said] to our representatives, who among others are now in session in Frankfurt on the Main, that about you Jews 'we' have the least worries [??] because all the troubles [?] and disorders [?] come about from those murderers who . . . who do not want to return to Poland [???]. And in spite of that, we are so discriminated against by that scum [?]; and we are being persecuted, and the people have such a deep hatred in itself that first of all they want to get rid of us.
  • Jacob Oleiski: And that is the situation [?]. We are being accused of black trading. It is customary [?] to talk about the Jews doing black trading.
  • Jacob Oleiski: The conditions under which we live are hard, very hard. We live in lagers. The lagers are like [transplanted [words not clear], the lagers are former armories, migratory buildings which the Germans have hoisted up and carried away. The provisions came from community kitchens in which the food is monotonous and . . . very insufficient. Grievous provisions, bad provisions, insufficient provisions. If one gets, sometimes, a small package of [word not clear] or other . . . if I should have to appear before you in that what was given to me, I would possibly today still appear [before you] either in a dirty shirt or would walk the streets without a handkerchief. So it is obvious that when one has a package of cigarettes or something else, out goes the Jew and barters it out for a shirt; goes the Jew and barters; we do not occupy ourselves with black trading, but we barter out the various things that we get, that are allotted to us. And we barter them out, so that we could live more humanlike, so that we should remember that once we had lived like humans.
  • Jacob Oleiski: Sure, there are some rare Jews who occupy themselves extensively with black trading [??]. Sure, but the cause of it all are the Germans—they have robbed us altogether of the diamonds, and our property which they have to get rid of on the black market. And that is why one must understand the grievous conditions under which we are compelled to live and one must look around [?], around oneself one should look, and what do we see about that life around [us] in Germany? Germans live in beautiful, marvelous apartments, furnished and in several rooms. Not in tents [?], barracks, or in lagers, four and five to a family . . . Germans travel in automobiles. We [?] are not permitted to drive automobiles. Germans may possess money no matter how much they got, but if they catch a Jew with a lot of money—Where did you get the money from? Germans may have jewelry, as much as they please. We—Where did you get it from?
  • Jacob Oleiski: I am telling you—you should know that in Germany but a small percentage of the population works, There is no room[??]. The room [space] is too small for the German to work. And he has money in his savings account.
  • Jacob Oleiski: Should he hold onto them so that these few marks should become further devaluated? And that is why they don't work. And the various schemes! They have been brought up that way. If you want to ascertain yourself—down with the world! And that has become the . . . the axiom for every German: deceiving, fooling [people], telling lies at every step and pace, and that is all their . . . all their doing [?] and that is why they don't work.
  • Jacob Oleiski: But the Jews, we are being kept extraordinarily idle. They only see to it that the Jews should begin to be occupied, that they be absorbed by the process of work. To be sure, we too, are for it because we know what it means to go around idle and what a demoralizing event it evokes in our life.
  • Jacob Oleiski: When I think of this past year . . . But not how they want it [?] and not the way how they understand it, but how we understand it—how we want it. And in that we shall enter into no compromises. We have lived through disillusionments, one disillusionment after another disillusionment. I speak of the sixteen months after liberation. We did not find our families; notwithstanding that we looked for them everywhere. We cannot, and we don't want to return home. We cannot live under the question, 'Why did we remain alive?'
  • Jacob Oleiski: When we came back to Lithuania we were immediately asked daily, day in and day out, 'Why did you remain alive? Whey did you remain alive? Jews have no right to live and here you have remained alive.' We have no answer to that. We have waited and hoped for possibilities to emigrate to Palestine. The perspectives? A hard, bitter struggle for life is what we foresee for the Sheris Hapleitah [meaning the remnants of the refugees].
  • Jacob Oleiski: How is the spiritual and social life of the Jews in the lagers of the American Zone? I remember, when we were liberated it was impossible to leave a thing that would not be stolen. You must understand that permanently we saw [?] before us, which constantly gazed at us -HUNGER, and that has come—[word not finished—compelled] and that has made intellectual people, socially conscious [?] people, good people, it has made into anti-social [individuals] in the lagers. Think of the doctor, the Lithuanian doctor whom I and a number of other comrades were compelled, in spite of his illness, to expel from the infirmary because he had stolen bread from his comrade who was lying there sick.
  • Jacob Oleiski: When we got out of the lagers, no lock was safe—nothing was safe. It was clear; everyone tried to organize [the word 'organize' was in the Concentration Camps a code word for stealing, viz 'organize' food. 'organize' paint, etc.]. Everyone was bewildered [?]. He knew he was free, but was his life safe, which was permanently impounded [?] during the stay in the concentration camp.
  • Jacob Oleiski: It was a hard task [of rehabilitation]. And in the course of a short time we organized a Jewish community life. If you should have the opportunity to come to the lagers of Germany, you will see little Jewish villages with a great social, cultural Jewish life. A motion picture house, a synagogue, trade schools, theatres, a choir [glee club], a library, lectures—it gushes of Jewish life. A committee of representatives which leads us is chosen by democratic elections.
  • Jacob Oleiski: It is a Jewish social life. People have been reeducated, and [re/accustomed to a new life and quite rapidly [in a short time]. And quite rapidly [in a short time] this metamorphosis has taken place—this transformation of our people. It proves the deep, ethical principles which we have carried with us through generations [through our wandering?], which were covered on the surface by a very light crust [???]—a very thin layer; and it [this layer] was removed and again it trickled through [??] and we became humans again.
  • Jacob Oleiski: And we are carrying on our life this way [??] and we search for our [way of] life, our safe [?] life which emerges with great, great hardships [??]. [Several subsequent sentences not clear—translation tentative]. We improve it with all possible means, and we provide him a trade [?].
  • Jacob Oleiski: This is all transitory. I am telling you that no person contemplates to remain in Germany . . . to remain in Germany. And the Jew who does not think . . . even the one who does [prospers in] business, neither contemplates to remain in Germany.
  • Jacob Oleiski: We had before us one of the most important tasks—to return people to work. You must consider that at the beginning the lagers were serviced by prisoners of war.—German prisoners of war. When the American military authorities had taken away the war prisoners they brought in German civilian labor. What Jew would have gone to work? Every Jew would say, 'You are crazy!' Work was considered in our midst [the liberated concentration camp inmates]—it has become a complex; work was our greatest enemy. But we understood, we, the responsible community workers in the lagers, that one of the most important tasks is the return to health of this contingent [?], of this Kibbutz. And if we want to have a few healthy Jews to whom the miracle has happened that they had survived—we must rehabilitate them and educate them for work.
  • Jacob Oleiski: And that is what we did. And we did it by various means—through propaganda, through providing better subsistence, by giving more . . . we took away from those who did not [?] work and turned it over, to give it only to those who work. And we have transformed the . . . the lagers so that everything was done just by Jews. Hospitals serviced by an exclusively Jewish element, the cleaning of the lagers—Jews only. And there is no specialization [?] in the work; in spite of one . . . where there are three working, one could have done the work. But Jews work, Jews do services; there are trade schools and Jews work.
  • Jacob Oleiski: And one of the most important jobs which we have undertaken, and one of the most important tasks which we have considered as such—only through work, only through trade schools, only by such means will we be able to reaccustom the Jew to work. Here [in such a way] he won't feel so badly about the hard Jewish readjustment; here he will see not only the Jew present, but here he will see his future. And . . . and in this sense [direction] we are working[??].
  • Jacob Oleiski: And now I shall turn to what we have done in the field of ORT work in Germany, in the American Zone. We have started our work in the month of July—it is then we started organizing in Landsberg the first trade schools. At the same time organization activities started in Feldafing [DP camp near Munich]—production cooperatives, tailor shops, other shops. We did that too.
  • Jacob Oleiski: Having grown up together [penetrated] with the ORT, and the work of the ORT for years and years, I understood that it must start immediately. And the conditions were favorable to create, and to create the outlay [?] and other things. And here we created a large, beautiful trade school, with fifteen departments, where three to four hundred Jews could learn a trade. And they, not only did they stick to it, but nowadays after eight months of work; after ten months we have courses already which are being completed.
  • Jacob Oleiski: We have organized the schools [programs] in concentric periods—by levels. First three months. We did not [?] know that we would sit around twelve or sixteen months. But then we saw that three months had passed, so we extended [the courses] for six months, and nine months and twelve months.
  • Jacob Oleiski: And so we have created the opportunities [to continue??]. And Dr. Lwovich [the director of the European ORT with its office in France] came to us and we . . . we didn't know, we lived, in general, cut off. One has to understand our critical situation. We did not know, in general, what is happening to the Jews altogether—whether there was an ORT at all, whether there are Jews in France. If one would see a Jew from France people would storm around him [??] from right and left. It was not known that there were Jews in France or in other countries, and whether an ORT was alive. And it took three or four months for a letter.
  • Jacob Oleiski: And when Dr. Lwovich had come to us, friend Lwovich told us to start working. He told us that he would give us help. So it was a ray of joy for us. And we threw ourselves at still more work, and we went to another lager, a second one, a third one; and nowadays we have two and a half thousand Jews learning a trade in the American Zone. Listen to this [??], we have seventy courses today . . . seventy-five. But we have a variety of courses. Twenty-five courses that I could enumerate for you but I don't want to take so much time because I still want to talk briefly over the tasks before the ORT—Twenty-five courses, various courses, machine shop, wood shop, automobile works, machine shop and extra welding shops, plumbing, radio, typewriter, carpentry, weaving, ceramics, womens' wear, millinery, [word not clear], underwear, [word not clear]—whatever you want [word not clear], bookkeeping; all courses are filled and when I arrive at a lager I find a desk full of requests—'come to the Land of Israel [?] and install trade schools.'
  • Jacob Oleiski: And that is the situation today. We have received help from Switzerland. Switzerland has given us not only machinery and tools, but my stay in Switzerland has given me . . . it refreshed me. Since my stay in Switzerland I came to see a new world and new people. I started remembering [thinking about] a new life. And so I began to conceive new forms of rehabilitation and new opportunities. I have seen the new, the new, and I beheld a people, a land which has not gone through the holocaust—and from which one may learn . . . and I am introducing it now into all the schools, and I assemble my teachers and I enlighten them, and so the work proceeds.
  • Jacob Oleiski: We have before us a great work, which I want to sketch before you just briefly. Possibly it will emerge later during the debate—but now I want to tell you thus: before the American Zone stands a very great, important fact. UNRRA, the military, whoever you want, who knows who finds it proper [??]; they want that the Jews should be kept busy. The Jews should be occupied working. We too, want it. But we say thus: we want it on different grounds. We want that Jews should be occupied with work only for the sake of two aspects. One aspect is that demoralization should not go on further, and that the uncertainty [this is definitely a guess. The word is not clear and appears much more forceful] which gnaws [?] at us from day to day, and the despair.
  • Jacob Oleiski: And the second moment [aspect], since we know, and we don't make any illusions to ourselves, we know that the Jew, when he should come . . . wherever he should come, if he should not have learned a trade he will be socially, entirely ruined. If he should come to the Land of Israel or any other land without possessing a trade he will go through another disappointment which may lead we know not to what.
  • Jacob Oleiski: We know, we know what every Jew has gone through, what he carried inside himself. And that is why we say, 'We are ninety thousand Jews; we want to work; we want that the American authorities should give us the possibilities.'
  • Jacob Oleiski: What kind of work do we want? We have from forty-one to forty-five thousand Jews which could be occupied out of the ninety thousand. We estimate that from the ages of sixteen to forty-five . . . we estimate that . . . that these are seventy-five percent of us. A young element—an element for work. We are able to occupy about from two thousand to two thousand five hundred [corrects himself], from twenty thousand to twenty-five thousand in industries. We want to work. We have Jew arte . . . artesans; we have Jews in various skills. We say, 'gladly'; order and we shall do it. For the American Military—gladly! We shall do it—it shall be done. Give us factories. There are factories in Germany in which we could work for them. We could take them over under our administration, start them going and occupy Jews; and not be working for the depreciated, insignificant package which we are given there, and for the inferior canned stuff and other things [he refers to small packages which were designated for prisoners of war and remained in the storehouses of the Red Cross]. We should get paid for the work in such factories in American currency. If you don't want to pay him here, fine! You will pay him abroad, wherever he should emigrate. He should have it in the future to build his life, and he should be able to settle in some way.
  • Jacob Oleiski: And that is the most important. Besides, we expect to occupy about ten thousand Jews in the trade schools. We expect to occupy about five thousand Jews in production cooperatives. But we want to have modern Jewish agriculture [implements] from, form the former Nazis and from former 'others of the kind,' so that we should be able to absorb then ten thousand Jews in agriculture [a few words not clear—his emotions rise to a high pitch].
  • Jacob Oleiski: That is our endeavor [???]; that we should be able to achieve these mighty tasks which have fallen upon the Sheris Hapleitah [remnants of refugees]—[intensive applause, and knocking of the gavel.]
  • Contributors to this text:
  • English Translation : David P. Boder