Ilia Olenin was born on 1899 in Odessa. In 1918-1919, he took part in the Russian civil war as a "Red partisan." He continued to serve in the Red Army after 1919. Before the Soviet-German war he and his wife Esfir (Esther), worked as bookkeepers in their native city. They had a son Friedrich (or Fred).
In 1941, with the beginning of the Soviet-German war, Olenin was drafted into the Red Army as a communications officer for the deputy commander of the 57th Army for matters relating to the rear. Within a short time, he was promoted to be head of the planning and supply department of the army, with the rank of captain, and then from March 1943 – with that of major. His wife did not want to part from her husband and, therefore, joined the same department as a hired worker.
Their relatively peaceful service in the army did not prevent their sometimes being forced to take part in military operations, especially in view of the fact that at the end of 1942-beginning of 1943 the 57th Army participated in the Battle of Stalingrad. In February 1943, Olenin was awarded the medal For Military Merit.
In November 1943, Ilia Olenin sent a letter to the editorial board of the newspaper Eynikayt. Inter alia, he wrote:
"When we have a free moment to meet, my wife and I talk about our only child, 12-year old son Freddy. He is in the Urals now, with his granny. When we will finish off the fascists, his mother will tell him about the time when a German corporal chased her, and she fought against him and killed him by shooting him in the head. That was her first "Fritz," but [I hope] not the last!
During his retreat the enemy leaves horrific traces behind them. Among the population of the liberated areas, we do not see Jews at all. The [local non-Jewish] people show us only pits, huge graves, where our tortured brothers now lie…
In a small town of the Smolensk Region that had just been liberated from the enemy a Russian woman approached Esfir. She was holding a five-year old boy by the hand.
"He is one of your people, a Jew," she said. – He is the son of the pharmacist Kogan. He was not finished off. When they finished off all the Jews with a machine gun, they only broke his legs. And left him. They either forgot him, or thought he would bleed to death. But I picked him up at night and pulled him through.
We wanted to give some money to the good woman, or some food. We wanted to thank her for saving the boy, but she did not take anything except some chocolate for the boy.
–"Say good bye to the auntie and the uncle! – she said and wrapped him carefully up in a shawl. – They are like your kin, your blood…
The boy stretched out a skinny arm. We saw black eyes gleaming from under the shawl, the sad eyes of a little cripple, rather than of a child.
We parted with them in silence. Both of us thought of our son. And of taking revenge on the fascists…."
(While being prepared for publication, the text of Olenin's letter was considerably edited by the editors. It has not been possible to restore the original text in all places).
From: GARF 8114-1-134, pp. 178-179, copy YVA JM/26129