Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre



Ume (Frume) Olkenitski

Born on 12 July 1899 in Vilna, Polish-Lite, into one of the oldest Vilna families, who drew her pedigree from the Vilna Gaon (father--the Gaon's great-great-grandson). After the end of 1918 the gymnasium in Vilna, she traveled during the Occupation of Vilna during the First World War, to Moscow where she studied in the local art school, returning in 1921 to Vilna. However she soon went away to Berlin and Munich, where she studied graphics, design and art craftsmanship (kuntsgeverbe) in the Munich art high school.

She returned in 1924 to Vilna, where she began to a job in the school of Ts.B.K. and S.M. Gurevitsh, as a teacher of drawing and arts and crafts. In 1928 she began to work at YIVO, and thre she created and managed the theatre museum, under the name of Ester-Rokhl Kaminska. She helped collect various Yiddish art exhibits and inserted a sea of love into this work. She also was the creator of the YIVO emblem. In 1934 she married a YIVO co-worker Moshe Lerer and became even more drawn into and brought closer to the problems of Jewish life. She became active in the Yiddish art society and other Yiddish institutions and societies.

Treating the manuscript about the twenty-one murdered artists in the Vilna ghetto, Shabtail Blakher had prepared to publish, Leyzer Ran writes:

"Prepared for the publishing house of the Vilna Ghetto is the manuscript that was written on the typewriter, and a ghetto artist has prepared the tiles for the chapters about each killing (according to the stylized form of the letters we 'suspected' of being from Ume Olkenitski.")

Sh. Katsherginski writes about her in the book "The Destruction of Vilna,"

"In the Occupation there Ume Olkenitski worked in the sorting of the various YIVO archives in Rosenberg Shtab, who was a member of the theatre collective, who used to make settings for the theatre productions and participated in the work of a plastic plan for Vilna. O. used her vitality to design colorful texture labels to hitlen (created on the background), which were wrought in the ghetto for the use of the local and city populace. Her husband Moshe Lerer went away with the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto to Estonia. Ume with her mother were taken away to martyrdom at Subatsh gasse 2T. Due to this, where they divided Ume from her mother, who they sent away on the left, and Ume went away on the left. So as not to abandon her mother, their other route was to Treblinka."

In a notice, it was noted that on 15 March 1942, H. Kruk wrote: "Today, the stricken child was found playing glasses. She recognized the glasses from them. Kh'te (Ume) Olkenitski recognized the glasses of Y.L. Peretz... This is how you find wild treasures in the trash.

In a notice from 20 March 1942 Kruk notes: "From a conversation with the director of Rosenberg's home, something became clear -- he thought -- it will not fail to catalogue the books. Does it mean that people will be dragged? Anyway, you still don't know how. There is only a suspicion. For now, I want to bring new people to work and among them the poet Sutzkever (as already stated), the artist Olkenitski.

In a notice of 25 April 1942, according to Kruk in a great destruction, Z. Kalmanowitz perhaps found the only copy in the world of the medicine books of Doctor Moshe Markozi, preached the good news and brought it to the Nazi overseer, Dr.Paul and the departed was already hard to pull back. The neighbors who talked to us about the poet Avraham Sutzkever, the poet (as already stated) and the painter Olkenitski were yelling at us for interrogation."

In a notice of 13 October 1942, speaking about a production of the ghetto theatre, H. Kruk notes: "Successful recovery projects were made by Ume Olkenitski, Rukhl Sutzkever and Yudl Mut."

In a notice of 16 December 1942 (should be 16 January 1943), according to H. Kruk, that "in coincidence with the making of the 2 mentioned already, today at 7 p.m. in the premises of P.P.V. [Plain Plan of Vilna] there was a meeting of all the technical division's attorneys, in the presence of the commanders Gens and Mushkat, Mole?ins Olkenitski and Sutzker. The referent Mr. Kruk spoke on the topic of why and why exactly." 

In a notice of 1 May 1943 it is said in Kruk's notes:

"The next evening, as we have already mentioned, the auditorium of Shavler 1, was overflowing with workers and an intelligent audience. Even before the academy had begun, the entire audience knew that it was a May demonstration in the ghetto. On the eastern wall of the auditorium a large, artistic placard hung (executed by Ume and Sutz) (Ume Olkenitski and Rukhl Sutzkever)."

About her tragic end O. writes in "Lerer Yizkor Bukh" A. Cohen/Kahan writes:

"In the time of the German Occupation in the ghetto, Ume worked in the Rosenberg home to work in the cultural realm. She had great decorations for the Vilna ghetto theatre, helped to save many treasures from the YIVO collections (a part of them were later rescued from the German hand and brought to New York's YIVO.) When the command of the Germans, the photographic map of Vilna was compiled, Ume had, together with a group of ghetto artists, received permission to get out of the ghetto in order to work for the entire city. She allowed herself to move and keep rare books and art treasures, arranging her life in case she was caught. Being in a ghetto, she did many things that were connected  with extreme danger. Ume had the choice at the liquidation of the ghetto in September 1943 of picking out a labor camp, wherever you want to send it. However, she did not want to separate from her mother and voluntarily chose the supposed way to death."

  • Sh. Kacerginski-- "Khurbn vilne," New York, 1947, p. 179.

  • "Lerer yizkor-bukh," New York, 1954, pp. 443-444.

  • Joseph Buloff-- "Umgekumene yidishe kinstler," Warsaw, 1957, Volume 2, pp. 196-7.

  • Herman Kruk-- "Tog bukh fun vilner geto," New York, 1961, p. 41 (in der hkumh), 209, 211, 243, 369, 444, 528.

  • Sh. Blakher-- "Eyn un tsvantsik un eyner," New York, 1962, pp. 14, 96, 97.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 5, page 4008.

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