Our mother’s parents were both shoah survivors. Our mother’s mother, Lenke Zam, was deported from her home in the Carpathian Mountains to Auschwitz; our mother’s father, Solomon Zam, for whom Shelley is named, led a troupe of 42 partisans in the forests of Poland. We never knew our grandfather Shlomo — he died before we had a chance to meet him, a victim of cancer several decades ago. But we were blessed to know our grandmother — “Bubbe Lily”– well. She was witty and bright, a pistol of a woman. And that energy, that intelligence, that chutzpah is what led her to survive the Holocaust. Her stories could fill a novel. There was the time she handed her mother a small, lost child when they were lining up for their initial inspection at Auschwitz, hoping that the Nazis would be sympathetic to a mother with a young child and spare her life (they didn’t). There was the time she avoided receiving her tattoo, her brand, by hiding with friends in different bunks at opportune moments. There was the time she worked at a labor camp manufacturing bullets for the German Army, and she sabotaged the production by spilling gun powder from the bullets, rendering them inoperable. There was the time she escaped her labor camp, following an allied bombing, but returned to her slavery — because she had nowhere to go, no family left. There was the time that she survived the death march, towards to end of the War, in part because of the kindness of righteous gentiles who brought the marching Jews cups of water. And then there was the time she met our grandfather in the Displaced Persons camps; almost at first sight, our grandfather was smitten and asked Lenke to be his partner in the next chapter of their lives.
An account of the liquidation of the Olyka Ghetto written by Solomon Zam:
“And now we will give you what Solomon Zam from Chelsea, MA… writes: Tuesday, August 12, 1942 there arrived to Olyka 10 heavy closed (autos)cars with a lot of Nazi soldiers. Early in the morning they went to the Judenrat from(of) the Ghetto and announced that all the Jews must work. The Nazis went from house to house to search for/ to catch some hidden Jews. That lasted from 8 in the morning till 3 in the afternoon. Some Jews were hiding in bunkers and wherever they could. The Jews that the Nazis caught they took to Prince Radzewil’s Palace. Caught also was the Loyker Rabbi Alter Joseph David. At 11 o’clock the Nazi murderers picked 60 men and ordered them to march and ordered them to sing Russian songs “Kapushaja Mogushaja.” If we didn’t sing loud, they beat us terribly. Marching we arrived at the cemetery. There we were divided into 2 groups. 30 shovels were waiting for us. 30 had to dig fast our brothers’ graves and 30 were waiting. Then the other 30 dug. Then after many switchings a few times we saw that our minutes were counted. Near me stood a Hebrew teacher Mr. Apsajtik digging. He murmured in Hebrew, “We should spread out to escape and run away as we came out from our brothers’ graves that we ourselves dug. So about 5 or 6 of us started to run away, then started a commotion and shooting and running. I fell and my hand was bleeding. I bloodied my face so the Nazis that chased me thought that I was dead and started to chase the others. In between I crawled away in berry bushes. I lay still and watched how the big brothers’ grave is being finished. Then the Nazis gave an order that we should all go in the big grave and all were immediately shot. A few minutes later the (first) last heavy Auto arrived from Prince Radzevil’s Palace(Sehos Zamek). The heavy lock was released and the Ukrainian militia started to toss out bodies- dead corpses- into the grave. Watching that from the bushes where I lay I saw it was not just an auto but a wandering gas chamber. The Jews were taken out from the palace. They were tossed into the Auto. They thought they are taken to work but when the doors closed a deadly gas started to come out and all the Jews were gassed. I saw immediately another, a second Auto came and a third and a fourth. Altogether there were 10 and so did the Germans in that day gas 800 souls and buried them in that brothers’ grave. The Germans with the help of the Ukrainians and the Judenrat fooled the Jews of the Ghetto. They said that they were taking only men and that they will take them to Trachenbrot 22 miles from Olyka. The women believed them and they started to bring whatever they had. So the Olyka Rabbi’s daughter Malkah brought her father’s (the Rabbi’s) praying shawl (tallis) and the tefillim and also a piece of bread. The Rabbi said ,”Thank you and be well my dear child.” And the daughter said,”Go in good health(gesunterheit) and come back well. She didn’t know that she is saying to the Rabbi her father the last goodbye. The Nazis were in a good mood and allowed the women to bring food and clothing to the men. That is how they they tried to fool the people so they should be calm to take them to their bitter end. Together with the same crowd of Jews in the same day they also snatched the Olyka 82 year old Chief Rabbi Moshe Rotenberg.
I lay in the bushes all day. Late at night the skies started to cry- it started to pour. The same night I gave the terrible truthful news to the Representative from the Judenrat. He answered me with bloody tears,” I know everything better than you! Choke this secret till your last breath because if tomorrow I will not send out 9 divisions to work so will the Ghetto of 7000 be liquidated. Then my wound healed a little so I started to give out the bloody secrets. And when they came to arrest me, they could not find me. I was already a leader of 42 Partisan fighters in the forests. And so ends the letter from Partisan and anti-Nazi fighter Solomon Zam.”