While growing up in Israel, a teenaged Mark Olsky wanted nothing more than to kill Germans.
Realizing how much of his family had perished in the Holocaust fed that anger, Olsky told about 80 people who showed up at a special book readers’ club meeting at the Geneva National Golf Court Clubhouse on Aug. 12.
Thanks to the influence of his mother, Olsky, 70, grew up to save lives, not take them.
“She told me, you can’t grow up angry, you can’t undo what was done,” Olsky said of his mother. “There were good and kind people, even among the German soldiers.”
Olsky’s mother, Rachel, is one of three mothers profiled in the book “Born Survivors,” the story of women who gave birth while in the Mauthausen concentration camp near the end of World War II.
During the one-hour meeting, Olsky answered questions about his family’s experiences in the Holocaust, and how he, who was a mere infant at the end of the war, learned about Mauthausen and his mother’s story.
The story came out slowly, Olsky said. When he was 6 or 7, he asked his mother where he was born.
“’On a train,’ she said. And I thought, that’s cool. I liked trains,” Olsky told the book club audience. It was only later he learned it was a train of cattle cars carrying prisoners to the Mauthausen work camp.
English author Wendy Holden stumbled across the story about five years ago, and pursued it around Europe, talking to the children, families and eyewitnesses to final liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp in north Austria. Rachel, who’s last name then was Abramczyk, and the two other young mothers, Anka Nathanová and Priska Loewenbeinová, never met. They all lost their husbands to the death camps. They all remarried after the war, and their children were raised as only children.
Priska and Anka gave birth to girls, Hana Berger Moran and Eva Clarke, now also 70.
Giving to life
The three mothers have since died. All three children, born in the shadow of death, became adults who gave back to life. Eva Clarke is a retired school administrator in London and Hana Berger Moran is a biochemist living in California, working in the pharmaceutical industry.
When Olsky was 14, his stepfather moved the family to Chicago
Olsky went to New Trier High School in Chicago. He earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois and earned his medical degree at Northwestern University. In 1980, Olsky moved to Madison and for 35 years practiced emergency room medicine there and still teaches at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine.
The three met for the first time five years ago, and have since become “siblings of the heart,” Olsky said.
Key to the liberation of Mauthausen was U.S. Army Sgt. Albert Kosiek, who, in defiance of orders, took his patrol of 22 combat engineers and a light M5 tank through the gates of Mauthausen on May 5, 1945, causing the remaining German guards to surrender or run away.
After the war, Kosiek went back to his home in Chicago, married and raised a family. The elder Kosiek died in 1983.
His oldest son, Larry Kosiek, also of the Chicago area, owns a summer home in Geneva National and arranged for Olsky to appear before the book club.
The meeting was the regularly scheduled meeting of the Geneva National book club.
“But this is not a typical book club meeting, because there are men here,” Kosiek noted, as the country club’s meeting room filled up. While his father played a big part in liberating the three mothers and their children, it’s likely that Sgt. Kosiek never knew about them, Larry Kosiek said.
Holden, Hana and Eva were able to visit the Kosieks at their Illinois home and visited Albert Kosiek’s grave in May. However, they were unable to make the meeting at Geneva National.
Because of the time differential, although it was 3:30 p.m. at Geneva National, in London it was half past 11 p.m., which would have made a Skype connection inconvenient for Holden, Kosiek said.
Kosiek said he wanted to draw attention to the contributions made by ordinary soldiers from the Midwest during their service in World War II.
He also wanted to bring attention to the extraordinary story told by Holden in “Born Survivors,”
Also at the meeting was Jerry Huffman, a former Wisconsin Public Television journalist and owner of Go2Guy Communications, who helped bring the story of Holden’s book and the three mothers and their children to the attention of local media.
Olsky said he has no doubt that Sgt. Kosiek’s arrival saved his life, the lives of the other two infants and most if not all of the survivors in Mauthausen. The Nazis were trying to hide their crimes by killing the survivors.
Whether the camp guards had enough men or equipment to carry out a massacre, it became moot when Kosiek’s platoon broke down the gates.
The son of another Mauthausen rescuer, Brian Petersohn, attended the meeting on behalf of his late father, LeRoy “Pete” Petersohn.
LeRoy Petersohn was a newspaper typesetter before the war. During the war he was a medic and the driver for a regimental chief medical officer.
It was Petersohn who convinced Priska to release her infant daughter Hana to his care and the care of other medics, said Brian Petersohn, of Aurora, Illinois.
The child who was turned over to Petersohn’s care was covered in lice and was deathly ill with a number of infections, Brian Petersohn said.
The child may have been the first civilian to be treated the new miracle drug, penicillin, he added.
When little Hana recovered, she was returned to her mother, he said.
According to his obituary, during the war, he received a Purple Heart during the Battle of the Bulge. In 2005 he received the Golden Badge of Honor from the Austrian government.
In October 2008 he received the Shofar of Freedom award from Temple Israel, Albany, New York for being a liberator, witness, and providing medical care to the victims of the Mauthausen camp.
Petersohn said his father was a devoted newspaper man, who was a typesetter at the Aurora Beacon News. He kept a journal of his life as a medic during World War II. His one regret was forceably taking a camera from a captive German soldier. He said the German wept when his prized possession was taken.
Petersohn said that one act burned in his father’s conscience long after the war.
LeRoy Petersohn died in Montgomery, Illinois, in June 2010. He was 88.
Article from the Lake Geneva News