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Helen Wiera Olszewski

January 14, 1925 ~ January 23, 2024 (age 99) 99 Years Old

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Helen Olszewska (aka Wiera Szewczenko) passed away January 23, 2024, age 99.

Born in Kuban, Russia on January 4, 1925. She was a woman of strength, courage, and filled with hope. Helen survived Soviet dispossession, the Holodomor famine, slave labor camps, and the Holocaust in World War II. Wiera’s family, livestock, home and household items were confiscated by the Soviets/Stalin. The family was taken by cattle cars and deported to Siberia to collective lumbering camps and living in barracks. Famine was in the camps and all children were required to work.

At the end of 1931 an induced famine was imposed by Stalin and the Soviet Leaders in which Wiera’s four siblings and family members died of starvation. Wiera recalls with sadness “there was nothing to eat”. She survived by foraging and eating grass, tree bark, linden blossoms, and nettles. Wiera survived the Holodomor that lasted from 1931 to 1933, and then in 1940 as an orphan, she was deported to Germany at the age of 15 as a forced laborer, and a slave.

Eastern European workers were treated differently than their Western European counterparts who moved freely. This was a right not granted to Wiera. Conditions in Nazi forced labor camps were inadequate with a complete disregard for the health of the laborers. She slept on straw and worked long hard hours in the fields. She met her husband in the camps, as he worked in a neighboring camp after being released from a concentration camp.

After the war, Walter and Wiera married and lived in various displaced persons camps throughout Germany. Russians were taking their own people back to their country and Wiera didn’t want to go back. Walter changed her identity and name to a Polish name “Helen”. They received entry into America in November 1949.

Helen’s death came just 19 days after her 99th birthday.

The day is approaching when the last Holodomor and Holocaust survivors will be gone. Yet even in death, their stories remain vividly alive. She didn’t know love in her formative years, but love found her. She was a relentless, courageous woman. “She is clothed with strength and dignity and laughs without fear of the future.”

Helen Wiera Olszewski is the beloved wife of the late Walter. Loving mother of Helen (George) Jarzab, Joseph (Kathy) Olszewski, and Rose (Mark) Kreger. Dear grandmother of Dave, Ken, Jeanette, Deanna, Natalie, and Nathan. Great-grandmother of Cassandra, Jeremy, Timothy, Eden, Conor, and Avery.

She will be dearly missed.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Helen’s family who will deliver them, in Helen’s honor, to the Holodomor Awareness and Recognition Program.

A Memorial Service will be announced at a later date.


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