By : Alexander Rabey


Olia was born to Eisik and Sarah Dinerman in Pruzana in 1889, the youngest of seven children. She attended high school in Minsk and graduated in 1908 winning a diploma and gold medal.


Her dream was to become a physician but the numerus clausus regulations against the Jews closed the medical schools of Russia to her. However, this young woman showed her remarkable character at an early age and with great determination and deliberation went about changing the situation, or at least trying to.


When she heard that the Tsar was to pass near Pruzana she made her plans and, as the royal entourage rode through, she threw herself in the way of the Tsar's carriage, forcing it to stop. She was immediately seized by the guards as a suspected revolutionist, but she ostentatiously passed a petition to them. which quickly made clear her purpose. In her petition she appealed to the Tsar to enable her to study medicine, and after waiting tensely for an answer for many weeks, she at last received the Tsar's reply. His imperial Majesty would graciously allow Olia to attend a teachers' training school.


Deeply disappointed Olia did not however give up and went to Geneva where she got her doctor's degree in 1913. A year before her graduation she married Faivel Goldfain son of a wealthy and highly family in Pruzana. They had one child, a daughter, Sarah, who in 1936 married a French engineer Alexander Rabey who was born Rabinowitz in Slonim, Poland. They live in Paris with their daughter and two grandchildren.


 During the First World War Olia served in a Moscow hospital and she returned to Pruzana after the October revolution. She practised medicine and had many Jewish and Christian patients, who esteemed her skill and humanity, while her husband Faivel managed a saw mill and also served as chairman of the Jewish community.


 When Poland was divided up between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in 1939, Pruzana came under Soviet rule. Olia was appointed director of the city hospital and deputy of the Bielorussia Soviet (Parliament). The Germans occupied Pruzana in June of 1941 and shortly afterwards established the ghetto for the town's Jews. When they decided to liquidate the ghetto at the beginning of 1943, Olia and Faivel Goldfain were in the first of four transports to Auschwitz. In the late afternoon of January 28, the 2,500 Jews in the transport reached the railway station of Lineve, 15 kms. from Pruzana, where they were crowded into rail trucks, 150 to a truck, amidst the screams of children and adults being brutally beaten, and some of them killed by the German guards. Olia was seperated from her husband and was never to see him again.


As the wagons were still open, when darkness fell, Olia decided to escape. Though suffering from a bleeding head wound caused by a rifle butt blow of one of the German soldiers, she walked all night through fields and woods to the Pruzana convent, where she had befriended one of the nuns. Sister Dolorosa (Genovefa Czulak) whom she had cured of a serious illness. Sister Dolorosa received her warmly but when the Mother Superior of the convent heard about her arrival she ordered Olia to leave forthwith.


Olia dressed as a nun and accompanied by Sister Dolorosa left the convent during the night of January 30 and though they had no travel permits decided to make their way west to the nun's native village, Olszyny, a distance of some 350 kms. It took them two weeks, walking, sometimes riding on horse carts and twice, with the help of friendly railway workers, by train, to reach the village, miraculously getting through the numerous controls on their way.


In Olszyny, the nun's family gave Olia a friendly reception and she stayed with them for the next 15 months. They passed her off to the villagers as a nun named Helena Wisocka, a trained nurse. She cared for the sick, and secretly also treated injured Polish partisans. The village pharmacist was very impressed by the appropiate prescriptions the nun wrote, but two Polish doctors from the neighbouring town complained to the German authorities about the competition from the unknown nun. Though the partisans warned the doctors to keep quiet, the situation became dangerous and the two women decided to leave the village immediately and move eastward in the direction of the advancing Red Army. When they spent their last money in the village of Naleczow they tore out their gold teeth and sold them for bread to still their hunger.


On July, 26, 1944, they were liberated by the Red Army and returned to Pruzana. The town people were astonished to see Olia still alive and many feared that she might be dangerous to them as she had witnessed their ill treatment of the Jews, robbery and even murder, in the early stages of the German occupation. But, protected by the victorious Red Army, no one dared harm her. Of the town's many Jews, Olia found only a few dozen survivors, young men who had been part of the many Jews who joined the partisans and fought the Germans in the forests. They were all in ill health, suffering from unhealed wounds, frozen limbs and physical exhaustion. She became their physician and mother, treating their wounds and sickness and forcing the peasants to supply them with food and clothing.


Not all the nuns were glad to see Sister Dolorosa return to their convent. They did not forgive her rescue of the Jewess and some pestered her with questions on how many bags of gold she had received for her deed. The noble woman took their taunts to heart and fell ill. When she recovered she was expelled from the convent.


Ilya Ehrenburg, the famous Jewish Russian writer, heard about the extraordinary story of Olia's survival and invited her to come to Moscow with Sister Dolorosa to record their wartime experiences. Their testimony was included in the "Black Book" edited by Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman, which was recently published in Hebrew in Jerusalem. From Moscow the two women went to Lodz where Olia found an apartment for the former nun, who is still living there. Olia decided to join the Red Army, which was still fighting the Germans, and was given an appointment of medical officer in Marshal Zhukov's army which finally captured Berlin.


After the Nazi surrender Olia received word from the International Red Cross that her daughter and grand-daughter were alive and living in Nancy, France. Her son-in-law had been liberated from a prisoner of war camp in Germany by the American forces and had returned home as well. Olia set out on the long and difficult journey through the displaced person camps of Austria and Germany and reached Strasbourg in November 1945, where she was met by her daughter who took her home to Nancy. By now Olia was completely exhausted and had to undergo urgent surgery for a stomach ulcer.


After she recovered, she decided to devote her life to aid the survivors of the Holocaust and to live the rest of her life among Jews. She immigrated to Israel shortly after the State was established and immediately started working for the Kupat Holim Sick Fund. She picked up Hebrew amazingly fast and every day treated dozens of patients, many of them new immigrants who had survived the Holocaust in Europe.


She retired at the age of 70, after 11 years of devoted service. She died suddenly and peacefully in December 1964. This remarkable woman had in her own lifetime achieved every objective she set for herself, overcoming almost superhuman difficulties and hardships in the process. Despite all tribulations of her life and the personal tragedy of losing her husband when she was still a young woman, she may truly be said to have been a daughter of our town who made good.


Sister Dolorosa (Genoufa Czulak) was considered by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem a Righteous Gentile.