The grandchildren of Ukrainians who saved Jewish children receive awards from Yad Vashem
The Ambassador of the State of Israel to Ukraine, Joel Lion, recently presented the medal and diploma certifying the title of Righteous Among the Nations to Dmytro Stetsiuk of Zhytomyr, whose grandfather and grandmother were honored back in 2002.
The Stetsiuk family saw the beginning of the war in its native Zhytomyr, where Pavlo was the long-time director of the Civil Registry Office. Owing to his official duties, he was personally acquainted with many city residents, a third of whom were Jews. Zhytomyr was occupied by the Germans as early as 9 July 1941, and shortly afterwards, the Germans transported the Stetsiuks’ neighbors, Josef Blumenfeld and his oldest son, Josef, out of the city, supposedly to forced labor. There, together with hundreds of other Jews, the men were shot. Pesia Blumenfeld and her three younger children—Moishe (Misha), Daniel, and Raya—were imprisoned in the ghetto.
On 21 September 1941, the Germans and local policemen surrounded the ghetto, and a large round-up operation began. In the confusion, twelve-year-old Misha managed to escape. He headed home, where he ran into Pavlo Stetsiuk. Realizing that the child would be found soon, Pavlo and his wife, Ksenia, hid the boy in their home and dissuaded him from searching for his mother, brother, and sister, which was tantamount to suicide. On 29 September 1941, on Yom Kippur, most of the Zhytomyr Jews were shot. Misha was left all alone.
The Stetsiuks hid the child in the basement of their home until June 1942, when a new wave of searches began. They decided that it was much safer for the little boy to leave the city. Misha and Pavlo dressed up as peasants, and, throwing some empty sacks over their shoulders, they passed undetected through the checkpoint at the exit from Zhytomyr.
Pavlo walked a few more kilometers with Misha and then returned to Zhytomyr. The teenager continued on his way eastward, pretending to be a Ukrainian orphan, which allowed him to live to see liberation. Today Mykhailo Blumenfeld is ninety-two years old; he has two children, four grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
The Stetsiuk family is very well known far beyond Zhytomyr. A memorial plaque is installed on their house. Dmytro’s father, Oleksandr Stetsiuk, was a famous composer and honored artist of Ukraine. Dmytro and his son, the fourth generation of the Stetsiuk family, also dedicated their lives to music.
During this ceremony, the Israeli ambassador also solemnly presented the medal of Righteous Among the Nations to Valentyna Kovalenko, whose mother (Nila Shemshurina) and her grandmother (Nadezhda Chudakova) saved a fourteen-year-old Jewish girl named Raisa Kaplun. Raya simply showed up at Nadezhda’s door and said that her parents had been shot, but she had managed to run away from the Berdychiv ghetto.
The women hid the fugitive in their home for three months, sometimes in the attic, sometimes in the basement. When this became dangerous, Nila gave Raya her own birth certificate, turning her into a Ukrainian. This saved the girl’s life. Then she headed in the direction of Slavuta and survived the war.
As noted by the Embassy of the State of Israel, in the last twenty-five years, the title of Righteous Among the Nations has been awarded to 2,634 citizens of Ukraine.
Originally appeared 2 September 2020 in Russian @Hadashot.Kiev.ua
Translated from the Russian by Marta D. Olynyk.
Edited by Peter Bejger