The Memorial Library’s founder Olga Lengyel was born in 1908 in a part of Romania that later became Hungary. In 1944 she and her parents, husband and two sons were forced into a cattle car and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Olga was the only member of her family to survive.
We have to prevent similar atrocities from happening again. People should come together the moment there is danger. Endangering one group means endangering all of us.”
– Olga Lengyel
A trained physician’s assistant, Olga was put to work in the Auschwitz infirmary where she also secretly toiled for a French underground cell, helping to demolish a crematory oven. Following liberation, Olga headed to New York, by way of Odessa and France, and in 1947, she published Five Chimneys: A Woman Survivor’s True Story of Auschwitz, one of the earliest testimonies to depict the barbarism of the Nazis. Thirty years later, her vivid exposé of the death camps became one of the haunting testimonies that inspired William Styron’s award-winning novel, Sophie’s Choice.
Olga eventually remarried and moved to Havana with her new husband, Gustav Aguire, only to be ousted by Castro’s communist revolution. New York beckoned once again. Here, Olga founded the Memorial Library and Art Collection of Second World War, chartered by the University of the State of New York. The Library, headquartered in her elegant residence, is Olga’s legacy, carrying on her mission of actively educating future generations about the Holocaust, other genocides, and the importance of human rights.
Olga died in 2001.
Olga Lengyel Shoah Foundation Interview
Olga Lengyel made it her mission to let the world know about the atrocities of Auschwitz in the hopes that such horrors would never befall other societies again. In this excerpt from the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation interview, Olga speaks frankly about her guilt surrounding the fate of her family and her driving need to begin work on her autobiography, Five Chimneys, while living in Paris after the end of World War II.