A young Jewish girl was rescued by a Ukrainian family during World War II. Now his grandchildren return the favor.

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The friendly face was Sharon Bass, whose Jewish grandmother was sheltered and rescued by Lesia’s grandmother in Ukraine during the Holocaust.

Sharon said it was her honor to welcome the cousins ​​and return the immeasurable kindness of nearly 80 years ago.

It was like history repeating itself, she said. But in this case, it’s an inversion of the norm. Jews have been persecuted throughout our history. We have been killed, expelled or forced to flee every country we have stayed long enough. But this time we have the privilege and the responsibility to be a safe haven for other fleeing refugees.

Sharon, 46, said when she saw the attacks in Ukraine her thoughts immediately turned to her grandmother, Fania Rosenfeld Bass, and her remarkable survival while in hiding from the Nazis.

Fania was a teenager in the Ukrainian town of Rafalowka when the Germans invaded, forcing Jews into ghettos and forced labor camps. Most of his family members were killed, including his parents and five siblings, whose bodies were dumped in unmarked open pits in Rafalowka Forest. Her youngest sister was only 6 years old. But Fania fled and survived, and would return, years later, with other survivors and her daughter Chagit in tow, to create a memorial at the site of the massacre.

Fania was not spared by accident or coincidence. His life was very actively saved by a courageous non-Jewish Ukrainian named Maria Blyshchik. Maria and her extended family hid Fania for the last two years of the war, until shortly before Rafalowka was liberated by the Red Army in February 1944.

Fania moved to Israel and started a family, telling the story again and again to her children and grandchildren, introducing them to the good people who retained their humanity and quietly rebelled against the horrors of war. Fania and Maria’s family, who remained in Ukraine, lost contact in the aftermath of liberation and in the years that followed. But then technology made communication easier, and the families reconnected in the 1990s and have been communicating regularly ever since.

Sharon grew up hearing the story of Maria’s bravery and Fania’s survival. She said she had no hesitation in reaching out to Lesia, 36, and Alona, ​​47, last month to offer help when the war broke out.

I spoke on the phone with Sharon asking her to get the cousins ​​out of Ukraine and go to Israel. She explained that the families were in frequent contact even before the invasion, describing them as “part of the family” and “even closer than blood ties”.

As soon as the situation became grim in Ukraine, Sharon began to think about how to get them to safety in Israel. She explained that “neither I nor they could have imagined that the situation would develop as it did – in the war – but when it happened and it was time to act, we decided that the best thing to do would be to bring them here to a place where they can be safe.

At first, Sharon encountered a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork. Then Sharon shared the amazing story with Roy Rubinstein YNET news from Israel. Suddenly people were captivated and eager to help. Israel is a small country, about the size of New Jersey, and it often functions like a small village. Public pressure began to mount. The story gained an even wider audience when Stop Antisemitism, an Instagram page, translated some of Roy’s reporting.

Before long, Sharon’s plea for help reached a former head of the Jewish Agency, and from there the Israeli Foreign Ministry, where high-ranking politicians personally got involved to help him. reduce the usual bureaucracy.

Hauntingly, Lesia and Alona’s visa approval came on the third anniversary of Fania’s death. She lived to be 97.

Once the bureaucracy was eliminated, there remained the logistics in the field. Lesia and Alona had to leave Ukraine. They first traveled by bus from their homes to the small towns of Volodymyrets and Borova on the Polish border, then to Warsaw, where they flew to Munich. From there, Sharon and a friend of Alona split the cost of the cousins’ flights to Tel Aviv. They landed in Israel on March 6.

Hearing Fania’s daughter, Chagit, tell me about their difficult journey out of Ukraine, I found myself thinking of my own grandparents’ panicked flights from Vienna and Berlin to New York in the late 1930s. seemed so familiar, wartime refugees running for their lives.

But Fania’s story couldn’t be more different from that of her descendants, and the same goes for Maria, the woman who saved her. Now the same story of a persecuted people in need of help is happening again, but in reverse for these families.

Israel has actually played an important role in Maria’s family life for some time.

Lesia, Maria’s granddaughter, and Alona, ​​Maria’s great-niece, have been to Israel before, and their extended families have roots in Israel long before the current war in Ukraine.

In 1995, Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum, honored the entire extended family as “Righteous Among the Nations,” the award given to non-Jews who risked their lives to protect Jews during the Holocaust. . In the years that followed, several extended family members traveled to Israel to work for a few years at a time, with economic prospects in the “startup nation” brighter than in Ukraine.

One of them stayed on permanently: Luba Blyshchik, one of Maria’s 10 children, started working as a babysitter for elderly Fania almost 20 years ago, and continued to do so until her death. died in 2019. Luba’s mother saved Fania’s life; Luba helped preserve it.

When I asked Sharon and Chagit if there were other family members beyond Lesia and Alona who wanted to immigrate to Israel, Sharon replied, “Yes, many more. Right now we are trying to save two different women – one with seven children and another with four.

Leaving is not a simple decision. For Alona and Lesia, the decision was difficult. Sharon described their tears upon landing in Tel Aviv and reuniting with Sharon as “complicated and full of mixed feelings”.

I spoke with Alona five days after arriving in Israel, and she told me: “I am happy to be here and in the warmth and safety of the Bass family, who are like a second family to me, but I also think of all the family that I left behind in Ukraine and who are still in danger. Alona’s mother, father, brother and nephews are still in Ukraine.

There is a guilt that accompanies survival and flight, a psychological phenomenon that Fania’s family understands well.

For now, Alona and Lesia have received temporary visas. Sharon, along with her family, tries to help them get permanent citizenship, and she says as long as they want it, her home is their home.

She told me: “Maria didn’t put a time limit on how long she hosted Fania, and neither did we.

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