Two of the Three Youngest Known Holocaust Survivors to Appear in Belleville
May 11, 2017
"I spent the first 14 years of my life as a child refugee. We lived in many countries until we came to the United States in 1948. We could not return to our home in Poland, we couldn't go to Palestine because that was illegal. We ended up back in Germany. Once they killed so many of us, they now had to put up with us."
Two of the youngest known Holocaust survivors will present their stories in a program sponsored by the Belleville Public Library and funded by the Friends of the Belleville Public Library, beginning at 7:00 p.m., on Thursday, May 18th, at the Belleville High School Auditorium.
Holocaust survivors, Dr. Mark Olsky of Fitchburg, and Hana Berger Moran, will join Wendy Holden, author of the book Born Survivors, which tells the stories of Olsky and Berger Moran, who will be present to lead a discussion of their incredible stories of survival. The third of the youngest survivors, Eva Clarke, is unavailable for this powerful presentation.
Their survivor's stories began when their parents were rounded up and taken first to Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Germany, and later to Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria.
The total numbers of people killed in the concentration camps is unknown, but estimates put the numbers from six million to well over 11 million. Of the total, 1.1 million were children and six million were Jewish. Other targeted groups killed by the Nazi's include LGBTQ individuals, gypsies, mentally and physically disabled people, Poles, Slavic people, Jehovah's Witnesses, Blacks who had settled years earlier in Germany, and opposition political party members.
They died because of Hitler's vision of creating a Master Race of Aryans throughout Europe. Despite all the well documented research into the Holocaust and its aftermath, Holocaust deniers still exist around the world. The most well-known American Holocaust denier is Louisiana resident David Duke, a member of the KKK, candidate for the Louisiana House, Senate and governorship, U.S. House and Senate and President of the U.S. Duke was also the founder of the NAAWP, National Association for the Advancement of White People.
In an interview this past Saturday, Olsky said his knowledge of his story in the Holocaust came to him "in gradual revelations when I was age five or six." He grew up with no grandparents, and his mother was very careful when he was growing up about what she told him about his earliest years. "She was scared, and angry. For 20-30 years, she didn't talk about what happened." He only knew he was born on a train on its way to Auschwitz.
Olsky grew up thinking the man he called his Dad was his biological father. But he wasn't. Olsky's dad died in the concentration camp. At some point, many of the prisoners at Auschwitz were transferred to the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria.
Oddly though, just six days before the Mauthausen Concentration Camp was liberated by the U.S. 11th Army, the Nazi's filled out birth certificates for each of the babies born in the camps, or en route to the camps.
As Olsky's son grew up, he became interested in his Dad's history and began doing some internet sleuthing to learn more about his history. He found a web page for the 11th Army group that liberated Mauthausen. That discovery led them to Leroy Peterson, an 11th Army liberator living in Montgomery, IL. Peterson had worked as a typesetter for the local Montgomery newspaper before his army service.
Olsky said that once the Mauthausen was liberated and the Americans went through the camp, Peterson found a typewriter and started writing down the stories that he heard from the newly liberated people that had escaped death at the hands of the Nazi's.
As it was described by Olsky, "Leroy Peterson created a huge collection of survivor eyewitness stories, photos and documents that provide a great historical collection of one of the world's darkest periods. He said that "Peterson has all this information in several three ring binders, and each must weigh 20 pounds." Each Sunday, Peterson has breakfast at the local restaurant, where he holds court with anyone wanting to learn about the liberation of Mauthausen.
Peterson's unit was primarily an Army medic group who quickly provided as much medical help as they could for the starved and sick prisoners of the Nazi's. "He (Peterson) was no doubt the first civilian to ever administer a shot of penicillin to a child, a shot which saved this child prisoner's life."
It was through the website connection for the 11th Army that Olsky found that there were two more identified baby survivors of Mauthausen, Hana Berger Moran and Eva Clarke, whom he contacted. "We contacted each other and eventually met up."
"We met as strangers who shared one weird thing in common, we were the youngest survivors of the Holocaust." There was some apprehension about what if the three had nothing else in common, a worry they quickly learned didn't present itself to the trio. "We compared the similar natures of our mothers. One of us could start a sentence, and the other two of us could always end their sentences. We're now just like siblings."
He reflected on their coming to the United States. "We settled in Glencoe, Illinois. We did what many immigrant families did when they arrived here, we started a business. Our Dad borrowed $1,000 and purchased the local jewelry store from a man who was retiring from the business. Our entire family had to help in the store."
"Dad purchased an engraving machine and began selling engraved ID bracelets. Each night after school I went to the store to do the engraving. The bracelets were so popular we netted $25 each week from the bracelets alone." His mother became an expert on Italian jewelry and made trips each year to Italy to make purchases for the store. Olsky Jewelers is still in business in Glencoe, 59 years after a newly arrived family of Holocaust survivors first started the family business.
Author Wendy Holden's book, Born Survivors, is no doubt one of the most compelling books ever written on the Holocaust. It stands with Elie Wiesel's book, Night, and, The Diary of Anne Frank. Holden's research is an outstanding piece of authorship. Booklist's review of the book calls it "an astonishing and deeply moving work." And Kirkus Reviews calls Born Survivors, "an engrossing, intense, and highly descriptive narrative chronicling the ghastly conditions of three pregnant women suffered through at the hands of the Nazis."
Olsky closed the interview telling of the three survivors going on a publisher's five-day book tour in England, where they were on BBC and were in many British newspapers. "We were recognized anywhere we went in Britain. The first week the book was out in Britain, it hit number three on the best seller list. And we laughed at what our mothers would have asked, "why did you only finish at number three?"
This upcoming presentation is powerful, sad, eye opening and enlightening, as it tells the story of what is undoubtedly the worst episode in world history in modern times.
And yet, in our midst here in south central Wisconsin, we had numerous Nazi sympathizers. During WWII, the Illinois Central Railroad posted guards at each end of the Stewart Tunnel, located in the Town of Exeter, out of fear that homegrown Nazi sympathizers might try and disrupt trains carrying necessary war material.
Dr. Mark Olsky of Fitchburg will share his mother's story, courtesy of the Belleville Public Library, on Thursday, May 18th, at 7:00 p.m., at the Belleville High School Auditorium.