Oleg Mandić: the last kid leaving Auschwitz
Oleg Mandić was born on April 5, 1933, in Rijeka
1943, with the capitulation of Italy, Istria passes under German rule
1944, Oleg family is imprisoned because of their political actions
Oleg, his mother, and grandmother are taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau
Today, Oleg lives in Opatija and is very active in telling his story to young generations
FAMILY AND EARLY LIFE
Oleg Mandić was born on April 5, 1933, in Rijeka. Oleg’s family is originally from Kastav, a smaller town close to Rijeka and Opatija. His great-grandfather was a wealthy peasant, who had the opportunity to educate his eldest son Frane, who studied medicine and was appointed as hospital director in Trieste. Frane’s son, Ante, Oleg’s grandfather studied law in Graz and Vienna. At the turn of the twentieth century, Russia opened an embassy in Trieste, and Oleg’s grandmother, Olga Stepenko worked there. Ante and Olga fell in love and got married in Kiev. Oleg father, also named Oleg, was born in Trieste, after the First World War. He married his mother in 1931.
ISTRIA UNDER FASCIST RULE, THE NAME OLEG
After the signing of the Treaty of Rapallo, in 1920, Opatija, together with Rijeka and the Istria region, become Italian territory. Because of their new minority status, Oleg’s family had to follow the regulations required to ethnic minorities, among which the obligation to give to newborns Italian names. However, because his father and grandfather were lawyers, they found a way to bend the rule. Oleg’s mother went to Rijeka, which was at the time divided into an eastern part, controlled by Yugoslavia, and a western part, controlled by Italy, and gave birth to Oleg in the eastern part of the town. Because of this, Oleg was registered with this name. On their return to Opatija, Italian authorities couldn’t find a name which matched a translation for Oleg, and this name remained also in the Italian registry.
1943: CAPITULATION OF ITALY
With the capitulation of Italy in 1943, the Italian army disintegrated and the illegal antifascist organizations, which were active in Istria since the 1920s, briefly took over. In Opatija, the organization was leaded by Oleg’s grandfather, and declared the creation of the „Free Republic of Opatija”, which lasted for a very short time but prevented disorders and bloody revenge in the city. Italian soldiers from Dalmatia, Greece and Albania passed through Istria to go back to their families.
GERMAN RULE AND IMPRISONMENT
On the 15th of May 1944, at two in the afternoon, German soldiers arrived to Oleg’s house and asked his family to pack and follow them. The family had already the suitcases ready, as they heard the news of reprisals from the German army. They were taken to Rijeka, in the „Via Roma” prison, where they spent one night. In the morning, they were taken to a passenger train. Taveling by train, they recognized the roof of their house in Opatija, and asked themselves if they will be able to see it again. Oleg and his family arrived in Trieste, in the Coroneo prison. Because of the vicinity of the prison to the train station, and being the station a military target, bombs fell in the prison yard and close to the cells where the Mandić were. They spent there two months, Oleg, his mother and grandmother shared a cell.
THE JOURNEY TO AUSCHWITZ, THE ARRIVAL IN THE CAMP
Oleg and his family were put on a cattle train. On the car, around seventy people shared the closed space, and Oleg remebers how the air-vents were closed by planks. One barrale in a corner served as a latrine. Because of the amount of people, nobody could sit. On the second day of traveling, they stopped because of bombs falling close, and realized they were close to Vienna. They saw Auschwitz written in chalk on the side of the train, as a destitination, but nobody knew what it was at the time. On the fourth day the train stopped, and Oleg and his family found themselves in Birkenau. Oleg and the others were given a piece a clothe with a printed number and a triangle. Oleg’s triangle was red, because he was identified as a political prisoner, despite his young age. On the triangle he had the letter IT written, for Italy, as they came from Trieste prison. They had to leave their suitcase in the wagon, and bring just what they could by hand, as some food, and glasses. Their heads were shaved, washed and disinfected, and the number on their clothes were tattooed on them.
In Auschwitz, the day started at 3 in the morning in the summer, at 4 in the winter. First, the guards did a head count, then they were sent to work. Oleg was there for almost eight months, when asked about how he was able to survive that, he answers „80% because of luck, 15% because of my mother, and 5% because of my craftiness”. In Oleg’s words, the first luck in the camp was to be proceeded with the women, and to spend the first two months in the women camp, together with his mother and grandmother. After two months, because they realized he was not under ten years old, Oleg had to be moved to the men camp. However, because he had a temperature, he was destined to the infirmary of Dr. Mengele. In Oleg’s opinion, being in the infirmary saved him, as patiens didn’t have to work and food was better than in the men camp. Because of an illness, his grandmother also was taken to the infirmary and, after a while, his mother asked to start working there as a nurse, to be closer to them.
THE LIBERATION OF THE CAMP
On the 20th of January 1945, Oleg and his family together with the other prisoners were taken out of the camp by the guards, to the death march. Among the few survivors, Oleg waited in a barracks the arrival of the Russian troops. When Oleg was told he would be taken to Krakow, he hurried to the crematorium number 1 and took a brick, which still has today. He says „Imagine how many human souls are in this brick. It has been on my desk for over seventy years and reminds me that if I had a beautiful life, a fantastically beautiful life, probably it was because it was Auschwitz in the beginning”.