Olga Sagalova was born in 1925 in the village of Riasno, eastern Belorussia. In 1935, the family moved to the town of Mstislavl, 20 kilometers east of Riasno. In June 1941, when the Soviet-German War began, the family failed to evacuate and stayed in German-occupied territory. On October 15, 1941, Olga’s parents, along with other residents of Mstislavl, were shot by the Germans. Olga and her younger brother, who were working in the fields at the time, survived. Upon learning that their parents had been killed, Olga and her brother fled to Riasno. At dawn on March 1, 1942, the Germans and the Belorussian police came to annihilate the Riasno Ghetto. Olga managed to escape (her brother failed) and went eastward to Smolensk, Russia, hoping to cross the front lines. Luckily, she had blond hair and spoke Belarusian, and was thus able to pass herself off as a Belorussian peasant girl. In a village near Smolensk, a peasant family took her in as a nursemaid for their children – after first having “made sure” that Olga was not Jewish.
In September 1943, the area was liberated by the Red Army. “I returned to Mstislavl as though I were coming to a cemetery,” Olga Ovsishcher (née Sagalova) wrote in her postwar testimony.1 Since her former house had burned down, she moved in with her prewar friends. In October, the authorities convened a Komsomol (Young Communist League) meeting and called upon the Komsomol girls to volunteer to the Red Army. Olga volunteered, wishing to avenge her murdered relatives and the other Jews, and on November 9, 1943, she was enlisted for active service.
During her first four months of service with the 247th Rifle Division, Olga worked as a washerwoman. Then, having learned that she had completed nine classes of school, her commanders transferred her to the medsanbat (medical-sanitary battalion, a unit that administered medical aid on the frontline). After a two-month nursing course, Olga was attached to the 266thmedsanbat, with which she traveled all the way from Belorussia to Berlin. Her division took part in crossing the Oder River in early 1945. Olga not only treated wounded soldiers, but was also a blood donor; her citation for the medal "For Battle Merit", her only wartime military award, states that she has donated 1.2 liters of blood in total.
In July 1945, Olga Sagalova was discharged from the military, and came to live with her distant relatives in Moscow. In the late 1940s, she graduated from a pharmaceutical school and got married. In 1992, Olga Ovsishcher settled in Israel. She lived in Jerusalem.
- 1. (YVA, O.33/3549)