Olyka, Ukraine

Olik - אוליק
Alternate names: Olyka [Rus, Ukr], Ołyka [Pol], Olik [Yid], Olika
Coordinates: 50°43' N, 25°49' E



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Toby Brief Updated April 2015
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THE TOWN OF OLYKA- A Brief History

Olyka (Olik, Olika) is a village in the Kivertsivsky district and the Volhynskaya oblast, northeast of Lvov. From the translation of the Olyka Yizkor Book as well as letters and written reminiscences we can begin to put together a picture of the town.

Olyka was an old town with historical Jewish connections. In about 1640, David ha’Levi (known as the TaZ) is credited with helping to save the town of Olyka which was under siege by the tyrant Chmelnitsky. The TaZ took refuge in the castle of Prince Radziwill with other Jews. They prayed and fought alongside the Prince’s men. It looked grim until “two ancient huge cannons that were not even usable suddenly shot out by themselves and killed off many of the enemy.” The enemy then retreated and the town was saved.

The earliest Jewish settlers are believed to have come to the community in the 17th C. There is a record of Jews burying the dead outside of Olyka as early as 1655. A Jewish cemetery was established in the 18th C (see footnote 1, below).

Olyka was under Polish rule until 1795 when the Russians took possession. In 1797 there was a Russian census performed that indicated 2,606 Jews resided in Olyka.

In about 1886, during the Russian period of rule, emigration from Olyka to the United States began. Once these people reached the U.S. they often were naturalized, renouncing their allegiance to the Russian Tsar.

During WWI, refugees from surrounding towns came to Olyka. The town suffered from bombing. German forces took the town from the Russian and Cossack soldiers. At that point, it is said that the non-Jewish residents fled the town. After a week, however, the Austrian-German troops retreated and the Russians again took Olyka. A battle waged over Olyka for nine months until the end of 1916 at which time the Russians forced the Germans to retreat.

Just after WWI the Russian Revolution occurred. The Jewish community is said to have supported the Revolution initially. However, as the Bolsheviks attempted to establish control rival gangs appeared throughout the area. These gangs entered Olyka and began to rob and loot. The local Zionist organizations organized defense groups to defend themselves against the gangs.

By 1920, the Polish army entered Olyka. They took control away from the gangs, opened a Polish school and the town slowly returned to successful business. The Jewish population is said to have been nearly 5000 by this time. Immigration to the US became difficult and by the end of the 1920’s anyone leaving Olyka was attempting to get to Palestine or to South America. These later emigrants considered themselves to be Polish (in contrast to the prior generation who were Russian).

The Ukrainians in the area were farmers and tradesmen. The Jews tended to be merchants. A Jewish school was opened in 1922 (footnote 2). During the 1920’s, on Wednesday’s, Olyka had a major Market Day. This is noted again and again in letters and stories. It is said that a major craft was shoemaking. We know that Chana Liba Finkelstein sold ribbons on Market Day from a basket. We know that Yehoshua Gingberg took part in the Day as he mentions in a letter to his sisters in Israel that he cannot get to see his newborn daughter until after Market Day. Despite anti-semitism from the Poles and Ukrainians it appears that businesses did relatively well and that cultural activities flourished. There was an active drama group performing plays. The community opened a Tarbut School and there were many Zionist groups and kibbutz training.

S. An-sky visited Olyka during his Ethnographic Expeditions (abt. 1914) and some photos of the town still exist.

In the 1920’s Szymon Zajczyk photographed the village’s famous wooden synagogue (footnote 3).

Until the late 1930’s the townspeople were able to travel for pleasure. In 1937, Batya Gingberg is visiting relatives in other towns away from Olyka. However, her brother Yehoshua notes in November of that year that the “economic and political situation of the Jews is pretty rough.” In January, 1938, he says “Here it is quiet, though the air is full of poisonous currents (gasses) and so much hatred that it truly makes you choke. But already we’ve gotten used to this and we hope for better times.” Still in September 1938, Batya again visits relatives in the countryside away from Olyka.

Later in 1938, we understand that there were riots in the town by the “Kamisies” (communists?). In the Gingberg household, the front gate and the entry door to the shop were broken by the rioters.

Olyka had a Jewish population of 2,086 prior to WWII (footnote 4) (2,479 according to the Atlas of the Holocaust).

In WWII everything changed in the town. Although the war had started two years earlier in October, 1940 Batya Gingberg reports to her sister in Israel that she is studying in school. Her brother, Yehoshua Gingberg mentions in the same letter that “Things are fine with us except for the danger we face...Please write more often since because of the war, a letter can take two months or more to arrive.”

The last existing correspondence of which we are aware is a postcard from Yehoshua Gingberg to his sister, Sarah. It was written on April 24, 1941. In it Yehoshua says that he has lost his job, but is looking for another. He says “...there’s no reason to worry about each other. Yes, it’s wartime.”

On June 22, 1941 the Germans attacked the Russians in the town. On June 29 or July 1, much of the town was bombed and burned. Approximately 100 Jews were killed during these few days. Max Taub(n)er, a Nazi, took up residence in the old Radziwill Castle. Once the Germans entered Olyka they set up a Judenrat to carry out their orders. These included forcing the wearing of the yellow patch, providing people for labor as well as providing the Germans with housing, gold, furs, and other items. The women were forced to do laundry and cleaning for the enemy. The first aktsia was about 6 weeks after the Germans entered the town, August 24, 1941. The order went out that Jewish males were to report for work at the Castle however the real order was to shoot all Jewish males over the age of 14. Of the people that had been sent to the Radziwill Castle, the women were released, but the men were taken to the cemetery, forced to dig their own graves, then shot. There are said to have been 500 (or 683) Jews killed by the Einsatz commandos in this aktsia. During the fall and winter of 1941 the town suffered from famine along with the rain and cold. Four more aktsia followed. A ghetto was established in March, 1942, a week before Passover. There was famine throughout the ghetto and the Jews were forced to live in burned out houses. On July 15, 1942 the ghetto was surrounded by the Germans and the Ukrainian policemen led by Max Taub(n)er. The 5,673 remaining Jews of Olyka and surrounding towns were rounded up after having been starved for 5 days. The men were shot while the women and children were clubbed and bayoneted.

The liquidation of the ghetto was completed on the 15th of Av, 1942 (July 15, 1942 (footnote 5).

There is a mass grave in Olyka dating from 1942. Around the area of the mass grave are gravestones, memorial markers and Holocaust memorial monuments with inscriptions in Russian and Ukrainian (footnote 6).

Olyka is now in the Ukraine. It still exists with a population between 1 and 5000 people. There are said to be no Jewish residents. However, there is a report that there was one formerly Jewish woman who still lived in Olyka in 1992.


1. See U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, #UA02150101.
2. Email 08/30/1999 with excerpts from Henia Kanievsky’s autobiography.
3. Encyclopedia Judaica, volume unknown.
4. Black Book of Localities Whose Jewish Population was Exterminated by the Nazis. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1965.
5. Miscellaneous information on the town of Olyka and its fate has been gathered from the Olyka Yizkor Book, letters from the Gingberg family in Olyka to Israel between 1933 and 1941 and Holocaust of the Volhynian Jews 1941-1944 by Spector.
6. See U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, #UA02150501.

Jewish Virtual Library - Olyka


Olyka From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia