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
Treating the manuscript
about the twenty-one murdered artists in the Vilna
ghetto, Shabtail Blakher had prepared to publish, Leyzer
"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.
New York, 1954, pp. 443-444.
Joseph Buloff-- "Umgekumene
yidishe kinstler," Warsaw, 1957, Volume 2, pp.
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.