Sunday, November 23, 2014

A Tribute to Heroes

Today, in an emotional and gripping ceremony at Yad Vashem, Petro and Kateryna Durniak from Ukraine were posthumously honored as Righteous among the Nations. Their daughter, Christina-Ludmila Kril flew in especially from Ukraine to accept the medal and certificate on their behalf. Members from the Ukrainian Embassy, along with Fredi Gruber, son of Righteous Josef Gruber and friends of Petro Durniak attended the event.  

The ceremony began in the Hall of Remembrance where Christina rekindled the Eternal Flame in memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust. The ceremony continued in the Yad Vashem synagogue where Christina humbly accepted the medal and certificate of honor. Christina told the exceptional story of how her parents graciously saved the life of a young Jewish girl, Anna-Barbara and took her into their home as one of their own. In the summer of 1942, when 50,000 Jews from Lwow (today Lviv), were deported to their deaths at the Belzec Extermination Camp, David Winter and his wife made the painful decision to to separate from their newborn daughter, Anna, in order to increase her chances of survival. They secretly took Anna out of the ghetto and asked David's Ukrainian friend Petro Durniak to watch over their baby daughter. Kateryna was pregnant, and soon gave birth to a child. The couple changed Barbara’s name to Anna, and introduced the two children as twins. Tragically their own child died shortly afterwards. Durniak grew very attached to little Anna-Barbara, and his wife often complained that he preferred her to their daughter Christina, who was born in 1944.

Petro Durniak

Kateryna Durniak

The Winter couple survived the Holocaust and the first news they heard of their daughter came from David's brother, Nachum Winter. Nachum was a soldier in the Red Army and after his hometown Lwow was liberated, he requested time off and traveled to search for any of his relatives who may have survived.  He found his niece at the home of Kateryna Durniak (she and Petro were separated at this time) and gave her his monthly salary in gratitude for care of his niece. Before he left he took a photograph with his niece. When Nachum discovered his brother and his wife at one of the refugee camps in Central Europe, he informed them that their daughter was alive and sent them the picture he had taken with Anna-Barbara. David and his wife contacted Kateryna and organized for Anna-Barbara's transfer to them, across the border of the USSR.

The Winter family moved to Israel, but shortly afterwards they emigrated to Austria. With time, the Winters lost contact with the Durniak family. However, the Durniaks never forgot Anna-Barbara. Kateryna kept her picture in a family photo album and after her death, her daughter Christina kept the photograph.

The rescue story of baby Anna-Barbara came to light in 2013 when Fredi Gruber, whose father Josef Gruber was recognized as Righteous among the Nations in 2005, traveled from his home in Israel to Lviv to meet his father's family.  Fredi also searched for any descendants of his father's friend, Petro Durniak. He arrived at Christina's home and she showed him the picture of Anna-Barbara as a small child. Upon his return to Israel, Fredi turned to Yad Vashem and told Anna-Barbara's rescue story. After further investigation, the Department of the Righteous among the Nations uncovered a testimony given by Fredi's mother, Antonia Gruber, in 2005. In a single sentence she mentioned that her future husband's friend, named Durniak, had rescued a Jewish girl. In addition, a testimony from 1961 of Nachum Winter was found in the Yad Vashem Archives where he gave a detailed explanation of how he discovered his niece. Attached to his testimony was the picture that was taken of Nachum and Anna-Barbara at Kateryna's home. These two photographs, the one saved by Nachum from the Durniak family, and the photograph that was in David Winter's testimony, clearly show the same child. Therefore, with the help of testimony which was given more than fifty years ago, Yad Vashem was able to connect the two parts of this story. 

Anna-Barbara as a child

When Christina spoke of her mother, she said that she had a difficult childhood growing up. Despite her hardships, when faced with the responsibility of taking in Anna-Barbara, her mother said there was no other option. "My mother was orphaned as a child. People who suffer either become bitter and vengeful or choose to be sensitive and care for the suffering of others. Clearly, my mother chose the latter." Fredi Gruber, son of Righteous among the Nations, Joseph Gruber also said a few words during the ceremony. He said that his parents were good friends with the Durniaks and called the Durniaks 'heroes.' He also spoke about his initial meeting with Christina in Lwow. When Fredi first met Christina in August 2013, he suggested to her that he thought, her parents should be honored as Righteous among the Nations. However, Christina said, "But why? They aren't alive anymore." Fredi and Christina then met at a later time and she told him when her mother was dying she asked, "Where is my Anna?" Fredi asked her again if she would object if he recommended her parents be honored as Righteous to Yad Vashem and Christina finally agreed.

Christina-Ludmila Kril with a member from the Ukrainian Embassy at the Hall of Remembrance  

The ceremony concluded at the Garden of the Righteous among the Nations where the Durniak's names were revealed on the Wall of Honor. Christina proudly posed for pictures next to her parent's names. She was also joined by Fredi Gruber who excitedly pointed out both the Durniak's names and on the adjoining wall, his parents' names. The inspirational story of the selflessness and bravery of the Durniak couple who risked their lives to save a young Jewish girl will never be forgotten. 

Christina-Ludmila Kril accepted the medal on her parent's behalf 
Christina-Ludmila Kril with Fredi Gruber at the unveiling of her parent's names at the Garden of the Righteous among the Nations 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Yad Vashem comment on the theft of part of the "arbeit macht frei" sign from Dachau

While we do not know who is behind the theft of the sign, the theft of such a symbolic object is an offensive attack on the memory of the Holocaust.