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Olga and the Children of Belaya Tserkov

Anemone Rüger - 3 October 2019

“Today is a very important day, maybe the most important day in my life,” said Natella Andrushenko, director of the Jewish School in Belaya Tserkov just south of Kiev on 27 August after the solemn dedication of a memorial to the first children murdered in the Holocaust on Ukrainian soil in the heart of the city.

Natella had been rallying up support for the memorial for years. “For a long time, I made a big detour around this topic,” she said. “It’s not popular, and it was too difficult for me – many of my relatives are lying in the mass graves around here. But the children gave me no rest. It was as if their blood was still crying out.”

Merely weeks after the German invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the Einsatzgruppen of the SS started murdering the Jewish population of her town, once home to more than 20,000 Jewish residents. After the raid, 90 young children were left without relatives, kept without life support for two days in a locked building. Against the protest of the Wehrmacht leadership, the local SS squads had the children executed by local police officers.

In the summer of 2018, Koen Carlier, director of Christians for Israel – Ukraine, and Johannes Zink, pastor of a non-denominational church in Heidelberg, Germany, participated in a modest groundbreaking ceremony for a memorial to these children not far from where they had been held. Now, one year later, Johannes brought a group from his church and a significant financial contribution for the opening of the memorial, which was attended by many officials including the chief rabbis of Ukraine and the Netherlands, a representative of the Israeli ambassador, the regional governor and the local mayor, as well as survivors and witnesses.

“I am here to ask you for forgiveness for the pain, the suffering and the death our fathers and grandfathers brought to your city,” Johannes said as he was handed the microphone, kneeling before an open-air audience of some 500. “We want you to know that today we choose to stand with you, God’s chosen people…”

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel,” Roger van Oordt, director of Christians for Israel – Netherlands declared to the audience from the book of the prophet Ezekiel.

 

Indeed, one week later Dasha, a gifted student of the Jewish School and daughter of our contact person Tanya, joined a group of excited Jewish kids at Kiev airport on their way to start a new life in Israel as part of the Na’aleh youth aliyah programme. She followed her aunt’s family and her grandparents, who made aliyah last year; her mother still runs the Jewish Agency office in Belaya Tserkov and helps Christians for Israel find, comfort and support Holocaust survivors and needy Jewish seniors in her city.

On our route visiting needy babushky (grandmas) with food parcels in the surrounding villages, our team also knocked on the door of Olga’s tiny hut. We noted paint peeling off the walls as our eyes got used to the dim light inside the main room used as both bedroom and living room. The electricity had recently been cut off as she had not been able to pay her bills, Olga explained. She helped herself with an oil lamp that would sell well in a Western antique store. Wrapped in a headscarf, her face radiated a kindness that seemed to contrast the stark reality around her. As I held her hand asking about her family, Olga began to cry. “Mom gave me away,” she said in tears. “I was born in Kiev. Then they chased us to Babi Yar – mom, dad, my brother and me. At the last moment, mom was able to hand me to her friend Galya. Then they kept going. They were all shot. My Ukrainian mother brought me up; she saved my life.”

Olga, a holocaust survivor from a village near Belaya Tserkov, who was saved by a Ukrainian lady during the war, still struggles for survival today.

We stood there in shock; our tears mingling with hers. How could it be that we found such a gem in such dirt after so many years? And yet we found her, 78 years after Babi Yar and Belaya Tserkov.

“People may think, why bother, why invest in these people so late in their lives,” said Tanya, our local project coordinator. “But you are like a ray of sunshine, bringing hope back to their lives. Through your love, through your practical support, these survivors experience being important to someone, even someone from a different country, and so they can go from this world in peace and dignity.”

Please help us to bring hope back into the lives of the survivors of the Holocaust by donating for food parcels.
A food parcel costs € 10 | US $ 11.

 

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