From Mauthausen to Fitchburg: Wisconsin Man's Unlikely Story of Surviving the Holocaust

May 4, 2015

The Mauthausen Concentration Camp in German-occupied Austria was liberated on May 4, 1945.  Among the more than 40,000 people rescued was Mark Olsky, who had been born just a few days before, in a cattle car en route to the camp.

Liberation of Mauthausen on May 4, 1945.
Credit Holocaust Research Project / holocaustresearchproject.org

With the camp's liberation, Olsky, his mother, and four of her siblings, survived the Holocaust - but just barely.

Olsky weighed only three pounds when he was born. His mother was under 70 pounds and was close to death. 

"[My mother] didn't quite know how she had milk to feed me. She had eventually no calcium left in her body. As the war ended, shortly afterward, she lost all her teeth," Olsky says. "Her bones became very brittle."

He doesn't know the exact date of his birth, but in a twist of irony, it was recorded as April 20.

"There were some German soldiers who wanted to do my mother and me a favor - to let me live. By saying [my birthday was] April 20, which was their national holiday - Adolf Hitler's birthday, that apparently made me a little special and my birthday gift was that I wouldn't be killed," Olsky says.

After the war, he grew up in Germany and Israel, and then his family settled in the Chicago area. These days, Olsky is a semi-retired emergency room physician with a family of his own in Fitchburg, Wisconsin.

Despite the desperate circumstances into which he was born, Olsky says he had a seemingly normal childhood in suburban Chicago, though his family's Holocaust experiences were always in the background.

"My parents (mother and step-father) were protective of me," he says, "to the point of sometimes forbidding me to do things. I was allowed to play soccer as a child, but with a lot of warnings about being careful not to get hurt."

He says his parents were emphatic about the need for him to get a good education, believing - Olsky thinks - that if they had known more, they would have foreseen the fate of European Jews and escaped before the Holocaust.

Still, Olsky, credits his mother from keeping him from descending into hatred. "My mother's take on it was...if your life becomes about vengeance and hate, then they get to take one thing they didn't take, which is your soul," says Olsky.

This week, he is in Europe marking the 70th anniversary of Mauthausen's liberation.

You can also listen to the Lake Effect interview with the author of a new book about Olsky and two other children born in similar circumstances, and with the son of the U.S. Army soldier who found and liberated the camp 70 years ago.