Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Belarus Righteous Among the Nations Posthumously Honored at Yad Vashem

Yesterday at Yad Vashem, a special ceremony posthumously honoring Yelena Vorotchik (Schultz) and her mother Yefrosinia Grenko from Belarus, as Righteous Among the Nations took place. Mr. Yevgeniy Vorotchik, son of the survivor and the Righteous Among the Nations emotionally accepted the medal and certificate of honor on his mother's and grandmother's behalf. Yevgeniy was extremely touched to accept the award on behalf of his mother and grandmother in honor of their memory.

Yakov Meilachs, was born in 1921 in the city of Odessa. In 1939, Yakov was drafted to serve in the Red Army and after Germany attacked the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, he was sent to the front lines. A short while after, his unit was surrounded and he was captured by the Germans and imprisoned in a prisoner of war camp in Barysaw, Belarus. While at the camp, Yakov was in constant danger of death due to his ethnic appearance which gave away his Jewish identity. Therefore, he changed his name to Vorotchik, which was the family name of his neighbors in Odessa.  
Yelena Vorotchik with Yakov Vorotchik and children

Yefrosinia Grenko lived with her daughter, Yelena in Barysaw and worked at a cowshed of the German army unit that guarded the prisoner of war camp. Yelena came to help her mother milk the cows and took every opportunity she could to help the prisoners by smuggling food and tobacco. This is how Yelena met Yakov. During one brief conversation, Yelena mentioned to Yakov that he looks Jewish. Yakov revealed his secret and told her his real name, Yakov Meilachs, and that he feared that sooner or later his true identity would be discovered, and he would be killed. Yelena told her mother of her discovery and they both decided to help him. They bribed a clerk in the population registry to issue Yakov a fake identification card with the name Yakov Vorotchik in order to protect him while in the camp. Eventually Yakov managed to escape the camp and hid for several months at the home of Yelena and her mother, where they risked their lives to hide him. After the prison guards were replaced, and there was no danger of Yakov being recognized, he lived openly and worked at a factory. He continued to live with his rescuers, and was presented as Yelena's fiancĂ©.  After liberation, Yakov and Yelena were married and had three children.

After the war, Yakov began to search for his relatives in Odessa. His older brother was killed in battle, however his mother Zisla and his younger brother Lev survived. Acting upon his mother's advice, he did not change his name back to his original name, but instead kept the name Vorotchik for the rest of his life. He continued to live in Barysaw, and was recognized by the Jewish community as a Jew and never denied his Jewishness. Yelena and Yakov lived together for 47 years until Yakov's death in 1989.

Yevgeniy Vorotchik unveiling his mother's name on the Wall of Honor
with Mr. Vladimir Skvorsov
At the ceremony, Yevgeniy spoke fondly of his parents saying that they were wonderful people who worked a lot and loved each other deeply. Although they passed away, he is grateful for his growing family of 7 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren, thanks to these two brave woman who risked their lives to save his father's life. 

The ceremony was attended by Ambassador of Belarus to Israel, Mr. Vladimir Skvortsov, Director of the Department of the Righteous Among the Nations, Irena Steinfeldt, family including Yevgeniy's two grandchildren, Holocaust survivors, as well as members of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous and teachers currently participating in a Russian speaking educators' seminar at Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies.

A memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance was held where Yevgeniy rekindled the eternal flame, accompanied by his grandson who is currently serving in the IDF. The ceremony continued in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations followed by the awarding of the medal and certificate and the unveiling of Yevgeniy's mothers name on the Righteous Wall where Yevgeniy proudly took photographs with his family and friends.

For more information about the Righteous Among the Nations:

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